Ouachita County Judge, Business Owner Indicted for Scheme to Defraud FEMA

Ouachita County Judge James Michael Hesterly and the owner of Clemons Construction of Bearden were indicted Wednesday on two federal charges of bribery and one count of conspiracy to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Hesterly, 49, of Camden, and Harry Clemons Jr., 39, the owner of the construction company, conspired to award Clemons a contract to clean up debris from two tornados that ripped through the county in October 2009, according to the indictment, which was filed in U.S. District Court's El Dorado Division.  

In exchange for the contract, Clemons allegedly agreed to donate to Hesterly's re-election campaign. The indictment did not say how much Clemons would donate.

According to the indictment, the scheme worked like this:

Clemons arranged for two bidders to submit intentionally inflated bids to Hesterly, who has been county judge for the past decade.

Clemons then met with Hesterly at his office and turned in his construction company's bid and another company's, Davis Dozer. Their bid was $120,730, much lower than the inflated bids of $137,500 and $145,000. Davis Dozer hasn't been charged.

Hesterly awarded the contract to Clemons on March 26, 2010, and then applied for FEMA money to help cover the cost of the contract.

FEMA paid $91,843 for the work. In August 2010, Clemons received $69,865 for his work and Davis Dozer received a check for $54,865.

Hesterly and Clemons are scheduled to be arraigned Friday at the Federal Courthouse in El Dorado.

If convicted, they face up to five years in prison for conspiracy and up to 10 years per count for bribery.