Former Arkansas lawmaker pleads guilty in corruption case

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A former Arkansas lawmaker who is the governor’s nephew admitted Monday to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to help a health non-profit as part of a plea deal in a sprawling federal corruption investigation.

Former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson pleaded guilty in federal court in Missouri to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. Hutchinson admitted he was hired as outside counsel for Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. and in exchange took official action in the legislature to help the Springfield-based non-profit.

Hutchinson admitted to holding up agency budgets, initiating legislative audits, sponsoring and voting for legislation that would help Preferred Family, according to his plea agreement. Hutchinson was paid more than $350,000 in charity funds and also received hotel rooms and Major League Baseball tickets paid for by the non-profit.

Prosecutors agreed to seek the dismissal of other charges Hutchinson faced in the Missouri bribery scheme. He faces up to five years in prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

Hutchinson last month pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and filing a false tax return in a separate case. Hutchinson admitted that he took more than $10,000 in campaign funds for his personal use and didn’t report $20,000-per-month payments he received from one law firm and other sources of income he knowingly concealed from his taxes.

He also admitted in that case to accepting more than $150,000 from the co-owner of orthodontic clinics in exchange for efforts to change a dental practices law.

Hutchinson is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson and Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew.

Hutchinson, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is among several Arkansas lawmakers and lobbyists who have been ensnared in federal corruption probes since early 2017. Hutchinson, 45, resigned from the Senate in August 2018 when he was first charged with spending campaign funds on personal expenses.

Preferred Family said it has been “terribly abused” by the actions of its former executives. The non-profit said it has long since terminated its relationship with Hutchinson and other executives who were caught up in the federal corruption probe.

“PFH has co-operated fully with the government investigation since June 2016 when the investigation and the actions of these former executives and other associates were disclosed to the full board,” Preferred Family said in a statement. “The process is slow but the company continues to work with authorities in all of these matters to bring those to justice who have harmed the company.”

Hutchinson was charged in the Missouri case in April alongside two former Preferred Family executives, Bontiea and Tommy Ray Goss, who were accused of using the charity’s money and property to bribe Hutchinson and other elected officials. The Gosses pleaded not guilty. An attorney for Tommy Goss said he will continue with his not guilty plea. An attorney for Bontiea Goss did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Another former executive from the charity, Robin Raveendran, pleaded guilty last month and admitted to taking part in a conspiracy to bribe Hutchinson.

According to Monday’s plea agreement, Hutchinson admitted to conspiring with the three former executives and Rusty Cranford, a lobbyist and former executive with Preferred Family. Cranford last year admitted to bribing Hutchinson and two other former lawmakers.

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