LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ attorney general said Wednesday she’s hiring two investigators to handle public corruption cases following the conviction of several lawmakers and lobbyists in bribery schemes over the past year.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced her office is forming a “public integrity” division within its special investigations department that will look into and prosecute corruption cases involving public officials. Rutledge says the investigator positions will be two currently unfilled positions within the office. Rutledge says the investigators will also be part of an existing state and federal corruption task force.
“As we have all seen in recent months, but really in recent years, we have way too much corruption occurring in Arkansas,” Rutledge said at a news conference at her office.
The changes follow a series of indictments and convictions of lawmakers and lobbyists that have included one former senator being convicted in a kickback scheme involving a small college and another pleading guilty to pocketing thousands in state funds intended for a sports complex’s construction.
Earlier this month, a lobbyist said he bribed a lawmaker identified only as “Senator A” in court documents. Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson’s attorney has acknowledged his client is the lawmaker referred to, but has denied the allegations. Hutchinson, who is the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has not been charged in the probe. Those cases have all been handled by federal investigators and prosecutors.
The cases also prompted the state Senate last week to overhaul its ethics and conflict of interest rules, including the creation of an eight-member committee that will handle complaints against senators by fellow senators.
Rutledge said the investigators will work with local prosecutors on the cases, and her office will also set up a hotline and webpage where tips can be sent about potential crimes. The AG’s special investigations department currently has two other divisions: one that handles cybercrimes and another that investigates metal theft. The maximum pay for the new investigators will be about $58,000 each, according to Rutledge’s office.