Lawmaker Nephew Of Arkansas Governor Indicted On Fraud Charges, Stepping Down From State Senate

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday announced he would resign from the state Senate after being charged with spending thousands of dollars in campaign funds on personal expenses, including a Caribbean cruise, tuition payments and groceries, prosecutors announced Friday.

Republican state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who wasn't seeking re-election, is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. Federal prosecutors allege that from 2010 through 2017, he used campaign money to pay for personal expenses that also included Netflix fees, jewelry, a gym membership and his utility bills. They say he tried to hide it by falsifying campaign finance reports and tax filings.

"Jeremy Hutchinson allegedly diverted contributions from his Arkansas State Senate campaigns to pay for an array of personal expenses," said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. "The charges, in this case, demonstrate the commitment of the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partner to investigate and prosecute those involved in alleged campaign-related misconduct.

""This indictment of Jeremy Hutchinson represents our commitment to vigorously investigate allegations of public corruption by elected officials," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch of the FBI Little Rock Field Office. "We appreciate the efforts of the U.S. Attorney's Officers for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas, IRS-CI, FBI, and the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section."

"The grand jury's indictment of Mr. Hutcinson demonstrates the collective resolve of IRS-CI to enforce our nation's tax laws," said IRS-CI Speical Agent in Charge Tamera Cantu with the Dallas Field Office.

Hutchinson, who is due in court Sept. 18, issued a statement saying he will fight the charges.

"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," he said.

His attorneys called the allegations "inaccurate" but said Hutchinson would step down. The governor's office said it had not yet received a letter of resignation from Hutchinson as of Friday afternoon.

Hutchinson is the latest in a string of Arkansas legislators to face accusations of corruption. None of the others are still serving in the Legislature.

Rusty Cranford, a lobbyist who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in June, said in court documents that he bribed a lawmaker identified only as "Senator A." Hutchinson attorney Tim Dudley has acknowledged that Hutchinson is the lawmaker referred to, but he denied the allegations.

The indictment unsealed Friday doesn't refer to those accusations, but prosecutors had asked to keep Hutchinson's indictment sealed until Friday to avoid interfering with an ongoing investigation in the Western District of Missouri, where Cranford's case was prosecuted.

Hutchinson has served in the state Senate since 2011 and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who said he had "full faith" in his son's innocence.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement saying he supports his nephew's decision to step down in the face of the charges.

"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," the governor said. "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."

Jared Henderson, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Arkansas, released a statement following Jeremy Hutchinson's charges.

“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.”