Former State Sen. Gilbert Baker Indicted on Corruption Charges

by Mark Friedman and Lance Turner  on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 12:52 pm   2 min read

Gilbert Baker

Former State Sen. Gilbert Baker was indicted on federal corruption charges in case that has already sent a former Faulkner County circuit judge to prison.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas on Thursday leveled nine counts, including conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, against Baker.

Prosecutors say Baker took part in a scheme to bribe Michael A. Maggio, the former Faulkner County circuit judge, to reduce a nursing home negligence verdict from $5.2 million to $1 million in 2013. Though not named in the indictment, the case involved the Greenbrier Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, owned by Michael Morton of Fort Smith.

In exchange for the reduction, Baker would assist Maggio's campaign for a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals in 2014, the indictment said. Maggio withdrew from the race in March 2014.

More: See the indictment here.

Attorneys Richard Watts and Bud Cummins said in a statement that Baker "has consistently maintained, including several times under sworn oath," that he never asked Maggio, Morton or anyone else to do anything improper or illegal.

"[Baker] has also consistently maintained that at no time did anyone ask him to do anything improper or illegal," the attorney said. "All campaign contributions in 2013 were handled lawfully and were transparently reported in public records. After over five years of investigation Mr. Baker is confident that the truth will finally be made known."

They said Baker would have no further comment.

In 2015, Maggio waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of accepting a bribe. In doing so, Maggio admitted that he was "improperly influenced" to reduce the verdict against the nursing home after receiving campaign donations from Morton. Maggio was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

Prosecutors say Baker directed the money from the nursing home owner to Maggio. They have charged Baker with one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and seven counts of honest services wire fraud.

Thursday’s indictment alleged Baker, Maggio and "at least one other person" conspired to influence and reward Maggio. The purpose of the conspiracy was for Baker and Maggio to enrich themselves, LRM Consulting — Baker's consulting and lobbying firm — and Morton's Greenbrier nursing home. Part of the conspiracy included concealing the "nature and scope" of Baker's dealings with Maggio and Morton, the indictment said.

Prosecutors have not indicted Morton.

Morton told Arkansas Business on Friday that he never talked to Baker — or anyone — about a bribe or reduction in a jury verdict.

"Never," Morton said. "I don't know what all Gilbert … was doing."

Morton also said he's never talked to Mike Maggio.

"I've never met him, talked to him, texted him, Googled him, nothing," Morton said.

Still, in the summer of 2013, Morton, through his entities, donated a total of $24,000 to Maggio's campaign.

Baker was a Republican state senator from 2001 to 2013, after which he began work as executive assistant to former University of Central Arkansas President Tom Courtway. He resigned the post in April 2014 as investigators looked into political donations to Maggio.

 

 

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