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The art of the deal: Jon Woods inspired by Donald Trump

Posted: 01 May 2018 01:09 PM PDT

Former state Sen. Jon Woods
has always loved to make deals.

Woods, currently on trial for federal corruption charges involving a series of alleged kickback schemes, learned the "art of the deal" from Donald Trump. Back when every prominent Republican in Arkansas was avoiding any public association with the Trump campaign for presidency (remember when Governor Hutchinson said "It is up to Arkansas to stop the Donald Trump show"?), Woods became the first lawmaker in the state to endorse Trump.

"I've always been a fan," Woods told me in an interview at the time. "It's not anything new to me. I bought 'The Art of the Deal' and the 'Art of the Comeback' when they came out. I've just followed him for a long time."

"There's a lot that people in general can learn [from his books]," Woods added. All kinds of things, no doubt.

During the 2016 campaign, of course, Trump promised to drain the swamp. Then he got to the White House and showed no scruples in using the office to enrich himself, his family, and his friends.

There are some bitter ironies looking back at Woods' career — who can forget that he was the co-sponsor of the so-called "ethics" amendment legislatively referred to voters? But as the headlines have rolled in about his alleged activities, it's hard to imagine a more fitting flashback than his special zeal for Donald Trump.

Oh, memories. A few other tidbits from the interview Woods gave after endorsing Trump:

Woods said that he loved that Trump could "see through people."

"He can see people for what they are and who they are," he said. "He sees through organizations out there that are in it for their personal gain. He sees through it. He calls them out. That's what I like about him. He's a loner. I love it."

When I asked Woods at the time what issues were most important to him in the presidential campaign, he responded: "He tells is like it is. He calls individuals and organizations out for what they are. He knows how to deal with bullies. And I think a lot of people know what it's like to be bullied. A lot of people see him as being bullied. That makes people gravitate toward him more."

Fire at Ozark Country Restaurant in Little Rock

Posted: 01 May 2018 11:07 AM PDT

Around noon today, Little Rock firefighters responded to a fire at Ozark Country Restaurant, a favorite breakfast spot just off Cantrell Road.

THV 11 has a live feed on the scene. As of 1 p.m., it appears fire crews have put out the blaze, but the building doesn't look good.

Leslie Rutledge uses Sarah Huckabee Sanders hullabaloo to build email list

Posted: 01 May 2018 11:06 AM PDT

I haven't mentioned anything about the White House Correspondents Dinner because the White House Correspondents Dinner is dumb. The supposed outrage over milquetoast jokes about an apparatchik for the powerful plutocrats running the country is dumb. The outrage over that outrage is dumb. The jokes themselves were pretty dumb. The media trying to grease their sources by defending the honor of the apparatchiks they depend on for access is dumb. My own manufactured irritation to add some salt to this paragraph is dumb. We are drowning in the detritus of disposable infotainment. We are becoming dumber. Resist.

But like a moth to a flame war, when Leslie Rutledge grandstands hilariously, I report such hilarity to you, readers. The nattering about "nerd prom" is tedious, the profiles of Sarah Huckabee Sanders are dreary, but Rutledge is genuinely funny. She is a sui generis charlatan, a phony that never phones it in. No one could roast her; the roast is implied.

Seeing an opportunity to build her email list, Rutledge today announced that she is launching "#SarahStrong" in order to defend the well-compensated spokesperson for the most powerful government in the world against jokes. "We will not stay silent," Rutledge clarified. Thank goodness. I don't know whether to call this thing being launched a campaign or a hashtag or what. At one point, Rutledge calls it a "movement." What does this new movement entail? The deal is that you sign up on a page on Rutledge's campaign website and provide your email (the email address is the only required field). The webpage doesn't say what Rutledge does with your email once she has it. We can only guess.

Alongside the email grab, here's the manifesto that Rutledge penned explaining the #SarahStrong movement. Liberal comedians should be ashamed. None have produced satire quite like this.

You know Sarah Huckabee Sanders as President Trump's Press Secretary. But I know Sarah as a kind and loving daughter, mother, wife, and friend. She is an amazing and beautiful person inside and out.

But because my friend Sarah refuses to play along with the liberal media, she's under constant and vicious attack from them. The disgusting way she was treated at the White House Correspondents' Dinner is a new low, and we cannot stay silent. We will not stay silent!

You see, here in the South we stand up for each other when our friends are being bullied, and you've picked a battle with the wrong Arkansas girl. It's hard enough being a working mom, and I can assure you it's very hard to be a woman in politics, especially if you're a conservative. If you want to attack us for our beliefs, for our policies, and for our politics then bring it on. But there's a line you just don't cross. As the first woman elected Attorney General in Arkansas, I am constantly encouraging young women to stand up and to get involved, but why would they if we remain silent when a courageous woman achieves success in politics and we allow her to be viciously and senselessly attacked?

There's right and there's wrong, and what happened to Sarah was just plain wrong.

That's why today I'm calling on my fellow hardworking women, Republicans and Democrats alike, to stand up and stand behind Sarah and all of the other successful women the elitist, liberal media have berated like Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump.

This isn't about politics — this is about empowering other women. When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!

So join me today as we send a resounding message to our country that this is not a man's world, this is not a liberal's world, it is all of ours together and as women, we are #SarahStrong!

Join the #SarahStrong movement and show your support.
– Leslie Rutledge

More financial trouble for Arkansas Baptist College

Posted: 01 May 2018 09:56 AM PDT

Arkansas Baptist College continues to struggle with financial difficulties,  the D-G reports:
The flow of federal money to Arkansas Baptist College has been "delayed," the college's interim president confirmed Monday, days after he sent an email to faculty and staff warning that the school may not be able to issue paychecks on time. ...

College officials for years have blamed cash-flow issues on an Education Department sanction that requires them to obtain reimbursement for allocated financial aid money rather than receiving it on the front end. The school has on multiple occasions struggled to pay staff members on time, including at least twice last year.

Officials on Monday did not make clear whether this delay is a result of the sanction or because of other issues.

The historically black college in Little Rock, which has periodically struggled to make payroll for years, is heavily reliant on federal funding such as student loans to make ends meet. The college, which went through a leadership upheaval last year, has been divided internally in recent years, with controversy arising over personnel and business decisions, real estate investments, and the lapsing of tax-free status for the college foundation.

New Rock the Culture podcast: "Downright wrong"

Posted: 01 May 2018 08:26 AM PDT

In this week's episode, perspective and conversation on Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray's decision to strike down Arkansas's voter ID law, the loss of jobs at LRSD due to declining enrollment and overdue repairs to McClellan High School. Hosts Antwan Phillips and Rep. Charles Blake also discuss entrepreneurship and innovation with guest Chris Jones, the executive director and lead maker at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub.

Subscribe via iTunes.

Walmart backs out of European grocery business, sells UK supermarket chain Asda

Posted: 01 May 2018 08:17 AM PDT

Walmart announced yesterday that it is selling its UK supermarket business Asda in a $10 billion deal. The company will be merged with Sainsbury's, a larger rival. Walmart will receive $4.1 billion and a 42 percent stake in the merged company.

CNN suggests  that the retreat from Europe could be part of an attempt to invest in India:
The sale of Asda follows Walmart's exit from Germany, its other major outpost in Europe, in 2006.

Walmart could use the cash to fuel its expansion in other international markets. The US retailer is reportedly close to agreeing to invest in India's Flipkart, an online retailer that has also attracted attention from Amazon.
More analysis from Forbes:

The shift comes three months after Walmart appointed Judith McKenna as the new head of its international business and seems to be an attempt to revamp the under-performing unit. Although more than half of the company's stores are outside the U.S., the international business brings in only about a third of revenue. In the U.K. and Brazil, where it is downsizing to the tune of hundreds of locations, the company has struggled for years. Meanwhile, the potential deal with Flipkart would give Walmart the foothold in India it has been seeking.
In Walmart's press release, CEO Doug McMillon stated:

We believe the Combination offers a unique and exciting opportunity that benefits customers and colleagues. As a company, we've benefited from doing business in the UK for many years, and we look forward to working closely with Sainsbury's to deliver the benefits of the combination.

Little Rock filmmaker Brent Renaud selected as Nieman Foundation for Journalism fellow

Posted: 01 May 2018 07:41 AM PDT

Brent Renaud
, the Little Rock filmmaker, photographer and journalist, has been selected for a fellowship by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

The foundation's announcement said that Renaud "will study the effects of trauma and mental and emotional illness on rates of poverty and violence in America."

Renaud was one of 27 fellows selected. Fellows take two semesters of study at Harvard, beginning next fall. They also "participate in Nieman seminars, workshops and master classes and conduct research with Harvard scholars and other leading thinkers in the Cambridge area," the announcement said.

Renaud is best known for his documentary filmmaking collaborations with his brother Craig. The Renaud brothers won a Peabody Award in 2015 for "Last Chance High," their eight-part series for Vice News online. The series followed students and teachers in Chicago's Montefiore Academy, a therapeutic school in the Chicago Public School system for students with severe emotional disorders. Their 2017 HBO documentary "Meth Storm" painted a harrowing picture of the meth addiction and poverty in rural Arkansas; their 2007 documentary "Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later" examined the legacy of the historic desegregation battle at Craig's alma mater. A forthcoming Vice feature-length film, "Shelter," will examine the experience of homeless teenagers at a shelter in New Orleans. The brothers have also done numerous critically acclaimed film and television documentaries on international stories of crisis, including coverage of Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Central America, and elsewhere. The Renaud brothers were also the founders of the now-defunct Little Rock Film Festival.

Community activists plan to show up at Ben Carson's visit to public housing in Little Rock and NLR

Posted: 01 May 2018 04:30 AM PDT

Neil Sealy,
the director of Arkansas Community Organizations says activists will gather at two public housing projects that U.S. Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is planning to visit this morning.

Only one stop for Carson was publicized Monday by U.S. Rep. French Hill, who will be welcoming the secretary to Little Rock: Our House, the shelter for the working homeless on Roosevelt Road. But ACO says Carson will also visit Silver City Courts in North Little Rock at 8:30 a.m. and Parris Towers in Little Rock at 9 a.m.

I asked the Hill campaign yesterday whether Carson would be making other stops in the area on Tuesday, but the campaign demurred, saying only the Our House visit would be available to press.

Sealy wrote in an email
ACO and the Arkansas Poor People's Campaign will gather at all three locations, but have a large turn out at Parris Towers at 18h and Broadway in Little Rock. Proposed changes to HUD's policies, including an increase in rent and work requirements, will have a devastating impact on HUD tenants.

Bribes bought legislation for youth services nonprofits, says federal plea agreement of former Democratic state senator

Posted: 01 May 2018 04:00 AM PDT

A lobbyist working on behalf of a Magnolia, Arkansas nonprofit that serves delinquent and at-risk youth steered tens of thousands of dollars to then-Sen. Henry "Hank" Wilkins IV (D-Pine Bluff) from 2010 to 2014 in exchange for favorable treatment, including state grants and multiple pieces of legislation, a federal plea agreement filed late Monday states.

That's just one allegation among several in the federal information regarding Wilkins, who resigned his position as county judge in Jefferson County last month after details of the alleged kickback scheme became public during testimony in a separate federal case. Wilkins, who served in the Arkansas House and Senate from 1999 to 2015, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and bribery.

Though the federal information is detailed, it's short on names. Wilkins many alleged co-conspirators are identified only descriptively. Among them are "Entity F, an Arkansas non-profit corporation located in Magnolia, Arkansas, which was a provider of youth services to delinquent and at-risk youth." The agreement identifies a "Person #3" who "served as the Director of Entity F and caused Entity F to make payments" to two lobbying firms that then made payments to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, where Wilkins was a pastor.

South Arkansas Youth Services Inc. was a Magnolia-based nonprofit that has contracted with the Arkansas Division of Youth Services (an arm of the Department of Human Services) for years. It filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Court filings in those proceedings, as well as statements by former SAYS employees, noted an FBI investigation concerning the agency.

The longtime director of SAYS was Jerry Walsh, who left the nonprofit last year before it filed for bankruptcy.

Two other key players in Wilkins plea are "Entity A" and "Person #1." The former is "a Missouri-based nonprofit corporation that provided a variety of services to individuals in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Illinois, including mental and behavioral health treatment and counseling, substance abuse treatment and counseling, employment assistance, aid to individuals with developmental disabilities, and medical services." The plea says "Person #1" is "an employee of Entity A, serving as an executive overseeing Entity A's operations in the state of Arkansas. Person #1 was also a registered lobbyist in the State of Arkansas and operated Lobbying Firms B, C and D."

One Missouri-based nonprofit providing the services named above (and operating in the states named above) has been in the news lately: Preferred Family Healthcare of Springfield, Missouri. Leaders of PFH have been implicated in a separate kickback scheme involving a criminal plea by another former Arkansas legislator, Eddie Cooper; its contracts with DHS have grown tremendously in recent years. (Cooper is also mentioned frequently in the Wilkins plea agreement.)

The PFH executive who oversaw operations in Arkansas during this period was Rusty Cranford, an Arkansas lobbyist who also listed South Arkansas Youth Services as a client.

The plea agreement states that "Person #1 directed monies in the form of checks from Entity A, Lobbying Firm B, Lobbying Firm C and Lobbying Firm D that were deposited into Wilkins' church discretionary account." Wilkins was a signatory on that account, and the agreement includes a long list of individual payments made by check to St. James United Methodist Church by Entity A or the three lobbying firms. Person #1 also "on at least one occasion" gave "Wilkins approximately $5,000 in cash concealed in an envelope."

Person #1 and Wilkins would often meet in person at or near the state Capitol, the plea agreement says. It notes that "from February 2013 to December 2013 alone, Person #1 contacted or attempted to contact, Wilkins by telephone approximately 344 times."

Entity F, the Magnolia-based youth nonprofit, is among the lobbying clients of Person #1 listed in the plea agreement, as is the Arkansas Youth Services Providers Association. So was another youth services nonprofit based in Pine Bluff, identified here as "Entity E."

Person #1 worked hard to get results for his clients in the Arkansas legislature. The information states that his lobbying firms:
... represented youth service providers around the state of Arkansas during the 89th General Assembly [that is, the 2013 regular session] and … lobbied to prevent the Arkansas Department of Youth Services (DYS) from adopting new rules and regulations deemed burdensome by the youth service providers and which were not contained in the original contracts between DYS and the youth service providers. Specifically, in late 2012 and throughout 2013, Person #1, in furtherance of his lobbying on behalf of youth service providers including Entity F, formulated legislation that would require the State to appear before legislative committees prior to changing youth service provider contracts. That bill [House Bill 1328] would later become Act 321 of 2013. 
The document then goes through a blow-by-blow accounting of how legislation would be proposed and vetted to meet the needs of Person #1's clients. It recounts an email on August 9, 2012 from a legislative staffer to Wilkins which "advised that he/she had a 'lengthy conversation with [Person #1]' about the issues youth services providers are having with DYS and 'as a result of my conversation with [Person #1], and the conversation we [meaning he/she and WILKINS] had on Tuesday, I have prepared the attached bill draft.'"

"Attached to this email was draft legislation that would later be filed as HB 1328. ...  Wilkins forwarded the draft bill to Person #1, who then forwarded it on to Person #3 at Entity F," the information states.

The 2013 regular legislative session began in January, and on Feb. 13, Wilkins filed HB 1328, entitled "An Act to require DYS to appear before the legislature for any changes to Youth Provider contracts." It attracted a large number of co-sponsors (the lead Senate sponsor was Democratic Sen. Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock) and passed with near-unanimous support in both chambers, becoming Act 321 on March 11. (Here's the bill page for the legislation from 2013.)

The federal information sums up the alleged scheme as follows:
HB 1328 was favorable to the interests of the youth service providers including Entity F and thereby advanced the interests of Person #1, who was paid to lobby on their behalf. In exchange for the bribe payments from Person #1 [and his lobbying firms] … Wilkins agreed to advance the interests of the clients of those lobbying entities through this bill.
But that's not all. The document also details at least two other pieces of Wilkins-sponsored legislation in 2013 that were allegedly useful to the interests of Entity F. It identifies another legislator of interest, named only as "Senator A," who corresponded with Person #1 in detail about the contents of legislation helpful to the youth services provider nonprofits. It describes General Improvement Fund money being used to pay grants to Entity F, Entity E and Entity A. It says Wilkins used the church discretionary fund to write himself over $7,000 in checks and pay approximately $10,600 toward the balances on several Discover cards in his name.

The information also implies that Person #1 was under FBI scrutiny as early as 2014. It describes a 2014 meeting in which "Person #1 informed Wilkins that Person #1 was being investigated by the FBI. Person #1 stated to Wilkins that Person #1 needed to continue making payments to Wilkins' discretionary fund even after Wilkins left the Arkansas legislature. Person #1 stated to Wilkins words to the effect that Person #1 needed to do this to make it 'look like I wasn't paying you.'" Person #1 then continued making payments to the account at Wilkins' church until January 2016, well after he'd left the legislature.

Jan Morgan puts gun giveaway on hold after questions about legality of campaign raffle

Posted: 30 Apr 2018 08:12 PM PDT

I noted yesterday on the blog that a promotion by the Jan Morgan campaign for governor — a drawing for a "gun giveaway" that people could enter by donating to her campaign — appeared to violate state law. This afternoon, the Morgan campaign put the contest on hold, and has took down the gun giveaway webpage on the candidate's site.

The top prize in the drawing was a commemorative Kimber micro 9 handgun engraved with Jan Morgan's signature. To enter the random drawing, people had to donate at least $50 to the campaign (via the normal donation process on the website). In response to my queries to the campaign about the website being taken down, I was contacted this evening by Joe Churchwell, a Hot Springs attorney who said that he had begun volunteering for the campaign today. Churchwell said that the webpage was taken down and the gun giveaway promotion for donations was temporarily suspended on his advice. The campaign asked him for help managing these issues, but campaign finance is not his area of expertise, so he needs time to research the law. He thought it prudent to put things on hold in the mean time. If he concludes that the raffle is prohibited by state law, it will be cancelled altogether, he said. He expects they'll make a decision by the end of the week. If it is cancelled, he said the campaign would seek to return the donations people have already made to enter the contest or make whatever remedies were required by the law.

"This is not a sophisticated political machine with millions of dollars," Churchwell said. "People make mistakes, and if it turns out this was a mistake, we're going to take care of it."

Morgan also removed a livestream video from her Facebook page that showed a separate raffle event held on Friday night during a campaign event (Churchwell said that he had not seen this video and couldn't comment).

The Arkansas constitution bars lotteries except in narrow circumstances, and drawings such as the one announced by Morgan's campaign have generally been considered unlawful lotteries. Amendment 84 to the Arkansas Constitution created an exception to the original prohibition on lotteries in the constitution, allowing raffles and bingo, but only for certain approved charities, which must acquire a license to hold such events, to raise money for "for charitable, religious, or philanthropic purposes." A political campaign would not qualify. Amendment 87 later allowed lotteries, but only for a state lottery established by the General Assembly, with revenues targeted for certain designated purposes.

The Jan Morgan gun giveaway met none of those exemptions and appeared to be held in violation of the law. When I asked the Morgan campaign about the legality yesterday (prior to the involvement of Churchwell), a member of her campaign team replied by email, "Nowhere in the description does it say 'raffle.'" However, the legality of such an event does not hinge on whether or not the word "raffle" is used, and in any case, quibbling over "raffle" misses the point. If it's not an approved raffle, it's an illegal lottery. Any contest that requires participants to pay to enter a contest for a prize, with the winner then chosen randomly (as opposed to, ahem, "electronic games of skill"), is illegal under the state constitution — unless it's the state lottery, or an authorized raffle or bingo game held by a licensed nonprofit.

After my post was published yesterday, the webpage for the gun giveaway began to undergo alterations. Along with other changes, all mentions of the word "drawing" were changed to "choosing," the words "prizes" and "giveaway" were eliminated, and the words "win," "winning," and "winner" were also deleted or replaced. None of this semantic tinkering changed the fact that it was an apparently unlawful contest to raise campaign cash.

"This particular gun-gimmick is of course illegal as Courts have long-held a raffle is just the simplest form of a lottery and that the terms are synonymous (See United States v Baker)," said Christopher Burks, an attorney for the Democratic Part of Arkansas, in an email. "Courts have also long held that a case is proven by the conduct of the parties and not merely the window-dressing they use to describe their conduct. It doesn't matter that Morgan has changed how she describes her gun-gimmick, what matters is that the conduct violates the Arkansas Constitution prohibition against unapproved lotteries or raffles."

The Morgan campaign said yesterday that they had talked with an Ethics Commission staff attorney "about the wording and legality." However, when I spoke with this commission staffer today, he told me that he often gets questions from campaigns about raffle or drawing events to raise campaign funds and the first thing he tells them, as general information, is that such events are prohibited by the constitution. The Ethics Commission does not regulate or enforce that prohibition, however, so if a campaign wanted more information, they should contact the relevant local prosecuting attorney. If a campaign did decide to go through with such an event despite the constitutional prohibition, the staffer said, there would be reporting requirements that are under the purview of the Ethics Commission, such as properly reporting donors, and he could explain what those requirements were. But he would not okay the legality of a raffle, an issue which is outside the authority of the Ethics Commission; if anything, he said, while he cannot offer legal advice on a matter outside the scope of the commission, he would tend to suggest to candidates that they might want to avoid the appearance of violating the constitution.

Ethics Commission director Graham Sloan said that the comments described above would be typical: When queried about campaign raffles, commission staff would let candidates know about the constitutional prohibition as a point of general information, explain that the regulation and enforcement of the law on such events was outside of their purview, and make sure that candidates followed proper reporting requirements no matter what mechanism they used for fundraising.

Sloan concurred that a random drawing for a prize that people enter by making campaign donations would not fit under the exceptions for charitable raffles, and would thus be prohibited by the constitution. But he stressed that the issue was not one that the Ethics Commission had any authority over one way or the other. Just because something is illegal doesn't mean it's grounds for an Ethics Commission complaint, he pointed out. Enforcement would be entirely up to a prosecuting attorney.

"The commission does not have jurisdiction over the constitutional prohibition against raffles," he said. "I think we would be remiss to not point out that they're constitutionally prohibited. But it's not under our jurisdiction, so I'm not going opine or comment about it. The Ethics Commission's concern would be the proper reporting of the item contributed or purchased for the raffle and of the contributions raised from the sale of chances or tickets."

In practice, it's hard to imagine a prosecuting attorney going after an unlicensed raffle held by a political campaign. But for the record, a violation of the law on raffles by a licensed authorized organization is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine for the first offense, and a $10,000 fine for subsequent offenses. The Morgan campaign is not such an authorized organization and presumably does not have a license. If a raffle is conducted without a license, that would amount to a violation of the law on lotteries, with the first violation punishable by up to a $10,000 fine; the second or subsequent offense is a Class D felony. A felony conviction, FYI, would make someone ineligible to own a firearm.

The raffle event that already took place, on Friday night at a Morgan campaign event on a cruise boat, was advertised as a "reverse drawing," a type of raffle where tickets are drawn out of a bowl and the final ticket drawn is the winner. It appeared from Morgan's Facebook live video (since removed) that the event may have been raising money for the Morgan campaign; the campaign has not responded to my questions about whether that's the case.

Here's the gun, currently in limbo:

Here's a promotion for the Friday event that featured the "reverse drawing" raffle:

Former legislator Hank Wilkins pleads guilty to federal bribery and conspiracy charges

Posted: 30 Apr 2018 05:12 PM PDT

Henry "Hank" Wilkins IV, a former Democratic legislator from Pine Bluff, pleaded guilty on Monday to "conspiring to accept over $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas state legislation and transactions," the office of U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland announced in a press release late this afternoon.

The bribes were concealed as donations to the St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, where Wilkins served as pastor, the release states.

Among the favors Wilkins provided in return: "steering approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement funds to his co-conspirators."

News of Wilkins' illegal dealings first broke in March at a bond hearing for Rusty Cranford, the former lobbyist whose widespread dealings in the Arkansas legislature have been linked to multiple unfolding federal corruption probes. At that hearing, an assistant U.S. attorney said Wilkins had given a statement to FBI agents that he had taken $100,000 in bribes from Cranford while he served in the state legislature.

At the time, Wilkins was serving as Jefferson County Judge. He resigned later that month.

The crimes to which Wilkins has pleaded guilty appear to be consistent with the statements that emerged at Cranford's March bond hearing. But much more is to come.  The information attached to the plea agreement contains a wealth of information about the alleged co-conspirators in this bribery scheme, as well as the "state legislation and transactions" Wilkins has admitted to influencing in exchange for the payments. Stay tuned while we dig into the details.

In the meantime, here's the press release:


LITTLE ROCK—Former Arkansas State Senator and State Representative Henry (Hank) Wilkins IV pleaded guilty today to conspiring to accept over $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas state legislation and transactions, including steering approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement funds to his co-conspirators. Wilkins also pleaded guilty to devising a scheme to conceal the bribe payments as donations to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where Wilkins also served as a pastor.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Cody Hiland, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch made the announcement following a hearing before Chief United States District Judge Brian S. Miller.

"By misusing his elected office to line his own pockets, Henry Wilkins undermined the integrity of our political process and abused the public's trust," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. "The Criminal Division is committed to rooting out such corruption and holding those responsible accountable for their actions." "Public corruption destroys the trust that is necessary for our republic," Hiland said. "In this case, the citizens of Arkansas were betrayed by Mr. Wilkins, and elected officials who abuse their position for personal gain must be held accountable for that
violation of the public trust. Investigating and prosecuting individuals such as Mr. Wilkins is essential to restoring confidence in elected officials. This office will continue to relentlessly pursue anyone who tries to undermine our system of government."

Wilkins, 64, of Pine Bluff, who represented Arkansas's House District 17 as a state Representative from 1999 to 2001 and again from 2011 to 2015, and District 5 in the Arkansas Senate from 2001-2011, pleaded guilty before Judge Miller to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, namely honest services fraud and bribery.

As part of his plea, Wilkins admitted that from 2010 to 2014, while serving in the Arkansas General Assembly, he accepted a series of bribes from lobbyists and non-profit organizations that were transmitted both in the form of cash and checks funneled from lobbying firms to a discretionary fund held in St. James' name where Wilkins had access to the deposited funds. In exchange for the cash and check bribes, Wilkins performed, and agreed to perform, official acts in his capacity as an Arkansas legislator including filing shell bills, sponsoring bills, voting in favor of specific legislation, and steering approximately $245,000 in General Improvement funds to entities that funneled bribes to Wilkins through his church.

"Wilkins took an oath to uphold the law and protect the citizens of Arkansas," SAC Upchurch said. "Instead, Wilkins betrayed the community he swore to protect. We appreciate the commitment made by our partners, the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice and the United States Attorneys' Offices for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Western District of Arkansas, and the Western District of Missouri."

The charge of conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States carries a maximum penalty of not more than five years' imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years supervised release. Judge Miller will sentence Wilkins
at a later date.

The FBI investigated this case. Trial Attorney Marco A. Palmieri of the Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie Mazzanti and Patrick C. Harris of the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Ben Wulff of the Western District of Arkansas are prosecuting the case. This is a combined investigation with the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western District of Arkansas, and the Western District of Missouri.

Secretary of state asks Supreme Court to maintain voter ID law in upcoming May elections

Posted: 30 Apr 2018 03:31 PM PDT

Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin has asked the state Supreme Court to stay a recent injunction from a trial court judge that blocked enforcement of the state's voter ID law and requests the order come "no later than noon Friday, May 4."

Arkansas primary elections will be held May 22, and the motion from Martin's office notes early voting begins as soon as May 7 and some overseas absentee ballots must be sent out with instructions by the end of this week.

Here's the motion from the secretary of state. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray granted a preliminary injunction against the Arkansas voter ID law last Thursday.

The state's current voter ID law passed the state legislature in 2017; it replaced an earlier law that the state Supreme Court struck down in 2014. When the court issued its 2014 decision, the seven justices were unanimous in saying the law should be thrown out, but gave somewhat different reasons about why.

The majority opinion, written by now-deceased Justice Donald Corbin, said requiring a photo ID amounted to a new qualification for voting, which would be impermissible under the Arkansas Constitution. But none of the four justices who held that view still sit on the court. The three justices who were on the court in 2014 and who remain there today instead wrote a concurring opinion that said the voter ID law was invalid for procedural reasons: When the law passed the legislature in 2013, it did so by a simple majority rather than the two-thirds supermajority required to alter constitutional amendments. That opinion, authored by Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, said the legislative misstep was enough to throw out the law without getting into the more substantive question of whether it constitutes a new barrier to voting. (Justices Karen Baker and Jo Hart joined Goodson.)

Martin's request for a stay of Judge Gray's injunction makes little mention of the majority opinion in the 2014 case, but it repeatedly references the concurring opinion. When the replacement law passed in 2017, Republican legislators were careful to secure a two-thirds majority in both chambers. The question is whether that will be enough for the Supreme Court in its current form.

State launches effort to educate doctors on pain management in effort to curb opioid prescriptions

Posted: 30 Apr 2018 01:57 PM PDT

Governor Hutchinson announced this morning a free, online continuing education program for health care providers intended to help reduce Arkansas's unusually high rates of opioid prescriptions.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will run the program, called AR-IMPACT (Arkansas Improving Multidisciplinary Pain Care Treatment). It will be funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield — the state's largest insurer — and the office of the state drug director.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Arkansas ranked second in the nation for per capital opioid prescriptions, at 115 per 100 residents. (That fact was cited by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in her March announcement of a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for their part in helping to create the national opioid epidemic.) State Drug Director Kirk Lane said today the 2017 rate has gone down slightly, to about 108 prescriptions per 100 residents.

The state has already rolled out efforts to fight the overprescription problem, Hutchinson noted, including a mandatory prescription drug monitoring program and prescription guidelines from the State Medical Board. But, he said, "much of this is about prescriber education ... How much to prescribe, how to watch it, how to be careful about it, to minimize the chance of abuse."

To that end, UAMS is launching a program of weekly lunchtime teleconferences that aim to educate doctors on how to better manage chronic patient pain while reducing the risk of addiction. Dr. Richard Smith, the medical director of the Drug and Misuse and Injury Prevention Branch at UAMS, said participation will count toward doctors' requisite annual 20 hours of continuing education.

"Prescribers attend a weekly conference from their clinic, home or office, and a team of specialists present the latest multidisciplinary pain management approaches to approve patient outcomes in functioning, as well as to reduce opioid abuse," Smith said.

Here's UAMS' web portal for the AR-IMPACT program.

Here's today's press release:
Governor Hutchinson Launches Educational Web Portal To Aid In Fight Against Opioid Abuse

LITTLE ROCK – In the ongoing fight against the abuse of opioids, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has launched a free weekly education and consultation service for Arkansas health-care providers, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced at a press conference today.

The AR-IMPACT (Arkansas Improving Multidisciplinary Pain Care Treatment) partnership includes the UAMS, the Office of the State Drug Director, the Arkansas Department of Health, the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the Arkansas State Medical Board, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the Arkansas Medical Society and the Arkansas Academy of Family Physicians.

"This education portal for doctors is an important new weapon in the fight against this terrible epidemic that is killing hundreds of Arkansans every year," Governor Hutchinson said. "It is not an exaggeration to call this epidemic one of our state's greatest challenges. Today we understand more about opioid drugs than we did a decade ago. With that advanced knowledge, we must utilize every tool possible to pass along this information to doctors so that we can save lives and spare more patients the tragedy of addiction."

AR-IMPACT will provide weekly seminars at noon on Wednesdays that feature specialists in the treatment of pain and addiction, a physical therapist, a psychologist, and pharmacists who are trained in opioid-related issues. After the presentation, doctors may join via teleconference to discuss cases for individualized feedback about approaches to treatment.

The 16 professionals in the opioid-epidemic crisis who joined the governor at the press conference at the state capitol included UAMS Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner, who accepted a $104,000 check from Blue-Cross-Blue Shield.

"We are thankful to Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield for their partnership as we work to improve pain management in Arkansas through UAMS AR-IMPACT," Chancellor Gardner said. "As the state's only health sciences university, UAMS is uniquely positioned to address this issue head on for the betterment of all Arkansans."

Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross, presented the check.

"Arkansas Blue Cross recognizes that the opioid epidemic threatens the health of the people of Arkansas in many ways," President Barnett said. "For those in chronic pain and for those treating them, there is no easy solution. We already have been working with health-care providers to help get a better understanding of opioid prescribing patterns in Arkansas. We believe the new AR-IMPACT education program with UAMS will help doctors learn about resources and alternatives to managing pain. It will take everyone working together to truly impact this crisis."

Kirk Lane, Director of the State Drug Office, said the epidemic is a priority.

"As drug director, I've talked with so many families who have been impacted, and it is clear that this crisis respects no class, race or income boundaries," Director Lane said. "It is evident that a collaborative approach is necessary to change the direction of this epidemic. We will make that difference with education and the willingness to change."

Win VIP tickets to see Los Lobos at the Bentonville Film Festival

Posted: 30 Apr 2018 01:15 PM PDT

The annual Bentonville Film Festival kicks off May 1, and while the lineup is crammed full of hundreds of films you'll want to see, there's also a strong concert series throughout the event, which culminates with a performance by legendary rockers Los Lobos Sunday afternoon.

We have FOUR VIP tickets to give away to that show, along with tickets to see Vintage Trouble, Alex Aiono and Lauren Alaina.

To get the tickets, send an email to arktimes@arktimes.com with the heading I WANT TICKETS. We'll give them away to whoever gives us the best paragraph reason why they deserve them. Act fast; we'll make the selection midweek.

By sending an email and entering the contest, you're agreeing to receive Arkansas Times enewsletters. We won't provide your info to third parties.

Monday's headlines and open line

Posted: 30 Apr 2018 01:02 PM PDT

Your headlines for April 30, 2018: Dems to debate tonight in 2nd District Congress and state legislative primaries; Brickeys prison reports fourth apparent suicide by hanging in two months.