State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, will resign following his indictment by a federal grand jury in Little Rock for allegedly stealing campaign contributions, spending them on personal luxuries and expenses and falsifying state campaign finance reports and tax filings.
According to a news release, he is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. Hutchinson, 44 and the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia S. Harris on Sept. 18.
The governor said in a statement Friday, “I just learned of the indictment against Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson for campaign expenditure and federal tax violations. This is a very sad day for everyone when a family member is charged. I have to look at this sad news as an uncle but also as a political leader in the state.
“As an uncle, my heart aches for Jeremy’s children and expanded family. This is a tough time, and it will not get any easier in the coming months.
“As a political leader, I know the United States Attorney always reminds the public that these charges are only allegations and he is presumed innocent, but the reality is that the charges alone undermine public confidence in our system of government. For that reason, Jeremy understands he needs to resign from the Senate, and I support that decision. He will need to devote his resources and energy in answering these allegations.”
More: Read the indictment.
The wire fraud charges are related to Hutchinson allegedly falsifying state campaign finance reports and soliciting campaign donors with fraudulent intent. The other counts are related to him allegedly filing false tax returns from 2011-14.
"This indictment by the grand jury represents serious charges, and we look forward to preparing our case and presenting it to a jury of 12 people who we trust to do justice in this matter," Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said in the release.
The charges announced Friday appear to be unrelated to crimes suggested in the plea agreement that lobbyist and health care executive Rusty Cranford reached with federal prosecutors in Missouri in June.
Cranford, in pleading guilty to federal program bribery, admitted paying an Arkansas state senator some $500,000 between 2012 and 2017, and Hutchinson's attorney acknowledged that Hutchinson was the senator referred to as "Senator A."
"I have reviewed Rusty Cranford's plea agreement. I am confident that Senator Hutchinson, a lawyer and part time legislator, did nothing illegal or unethical," Tim Dudley, Hutchinson's lawyer, told the Associated Press in June.
Dudley and Stephen Larson, who is also Hutchinson’s attorney, said in a statement following Friday’s announcement, “In light of these regrettable circumstances, Mr. Hutchinson intends to resign from the Arkansas Senate. His resignation is not an admission of wrongdoing nor should he be forced to resign because of an allegation. He is doing so simply to allow the people’s business in the State Capitol to go forward without unnecessary distraction.”
Arkansas Democrats were quick to call for the resignation.
"Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson should immediately resign from the Arkansas Senate," state Rep. Michael John Gray, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said in a statement. "Today's indictment reveals that he is clearly unfit to serve in elected office. Just as I called on Rep. Mikey Gates to resign, any state official indicated on criminal charges must resign because they cannot effectively represent their constituents.
"There should be no excuse for GOP Chairman Doyle Webb to defend this continued corruption in the legislature. He should join me in calling for the resignation of both Rep. Mickey Gates and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson today."
Gray was referring to state Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, who was arrested in June and charged with six state crimes related to his failure to file and pay state income taxes during the years 2011-17. He had not actually filed since 2003, but the statute of limitations is six years for this particular crime.
Jeremy Hutchinson said in a statement Friday, “It has been the greatest honor of my life to represent the people in my Senate district. I worked very hard to serve all of my constituents, and I appreciate the many gestures of support I have received from friends, neighbors and colleagues over recent weeks.
“Nobody would want to find themselves in my present position, but I intend to defend myself and offer truthful evidence to a jury as soon as possible. I do not agree with decisions that have led us to this place, but I am powerless to control those decisions. However, I continue to believe in our system of justice and will trust that it will produce a fair and just result in this case.”
His attorneys added, “Every person charged with a crime is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court. The allegations in today’s indictment are mere allegations. We look forward to vigorously disputing their accuracy very soon before a jury.
“For over five years Mr. Hutchinson cooperated fully with the government in this investigation. In light of that history, we all find it both frustrating and disappointing for him to be forced to face the inaccurate factual allegations contained in the indictment.
“It is therefore remarkable that he still finds himself defending these charges and under circumstances that will undoubtedly be explored soon in the litigation of this case. The government has irreparably impaired Mr. Hutchinson’s ability to defend himself by searching his computer without a warrant and then inexplicably destroying an image of his hard drive which possessed key exculpatory evidence.”
Former U.S. Sen.Tim Hutchinson, Hutchinson's father and the governor's brother, said in a statement, "I have faith in our courts and our system of justice. I have full faith in my son’s innocence of the allegations as set out in today’s indictment and believe that when the facts are fairly presented he will be exonerated.”
And former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins said he would serve as the trustee of a legal defense fund to receive contributions from "those who want to insure that Jeremy Hutchinson has the resources necessary to mount an adequate defense."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson and Democrat Mike Lee, who is running for attorney general, also weighed in on Friday's indictment.
Henderson said in a statement, “Governor Hutchinson has had 4 years to address corruption infecting our state, but has been largely silent on the issue. We have seen indictment after indictment, and Senator Hutchinson is just the latest example of state legislators taking advantage of the responsibilities entrusted in them, proving we need leaders who are serious about rooting out corruption in our state government. I’m proud to have released two plans to eradicate and prevent corruption, and will fight endlessly to hold corrupt politicians like Senator Hutchinson accountable.”
Henderson also said he released two ethics reform plans in June in response to initial reports of Hutchinson’s crimes, prior to the State Senate or the governor releasing plans.
Lee said in a statement, “There is a culture of corruption in the state Capitol that has been allowed to fester for far too long. The political class is blatant about its abuse of public trust. Hutchinson even helped create a private club across the street from the Capitol building, the 1836 Club, to facilitate meetings between lobbyists, high rollers and lawmakers.
"Arkansas needs a real watchdog in the attorney general's office. But good conduct starts with taking personal responsibility. I, for example, unlike my opponent Leslie Rutledge, will never set foot in the 1836 Club or any place that condones fraternizing between the forces that have corrupted our government and our elected officials."
According to a news release, Lee said Hutchinson's indictment "doesn't touch on serious other ethical questions, including the receipt of nearly a half-million dollars to represent the 'legal' interests of convicted lobbyist Rusty Cranford."
He is calling on Leslie Rutledge to investigate this issue, propose solutions and recover funds, as he would if he were serving as attorney general. Lee plans to release a series of ethics proposals in a legislative package in the coming days, according to the release.
The investigation of Hutchinson was conducted by the FBI and Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Marco Palmieri of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section; Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie Mazzanti and Patrick Harris from the Eastern District of Arkansas; and Ben Wulff from the Western District of Arkansas.