Michael A. Maggio, the former Faulkner County Circuit Judge, waived indictment Friday and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of accepting a bribe in exchange for reducing a nursing home negligence verdict.
The maximum penalty for bribery is 10 years in federal prison, but the terms of Maggio's plea agreement suggest a guideline sentence of 30-37 months. A sentencing hearing will be set after federal probation officers prepare a pre-sentence report.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Maggio admitted that he was "improperly influenced" to reduce the $5.2 million verdict against a business after receiving campaign donations from the owner of the business.
Although the news release didn't identify the business, the details match the lawsuit brought by the family of Martha Bull, who died in 2008 at the Greenbrier Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.
The nursing home is owned by Michael Morton.
At the time he was hearing post-trial motions in the Bull case, in the summer of 2013, Maggio formally announced his candidacy for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Within days, Maggio's fundraiser told him that $50,000 from the business was "on the way," prosecutors said.
Two days after Maggio’s campaign fundraiser — a possible reference to former state Sen. Gilbert Baker — received about $24,000 in donations from the business owner, Maggio reduced the plantiff's verdict to $1 million.
According to the First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Harris, Maggio also admitted that he attempted to delete text messages between the campaign fundraiser and himself after the contributions from the business owner were disclosed by the media.
The plea agreement negotiated by Maggio's attorneys, Lauren Hamilton and Marjorie Rogers, and federal prosecutors from Little Rock and the Department of Justice's public integrity section in Washington, includes a base offense level of 14 plus eight additional points — four for the size of the bribe and four because Maggio was an elected official. He is eligible to have two or, more likely, three points deducted for accepting responsibility by pleading guilty.
A final offense level of 19 carries a suggested guideline sentence of 30-37 months in federal prison, although U.S. District Judge Brian Miller has latitude to sentence Maggio to more or less prison time than the guideline range. Maggio will likely lose his law license.
Maggio had been off the bench since September. The state Supreme Court removed Maggio after the Blue Hog Report blog reported Maggio had disclosed confidential details in an adoption involving actress Charlize Theron and made off-color remarks on an online message board.
Maggio, Baker and Morton also face a civil lawsuit filed in November by Bull's family, which alleges that campaign donations from Mortaon, solicited by Baker, influenced Maggio's ruling on the verdict in the Greenbrier Nursing case.