The Maggio case marches on. Morton talks to investigators. What about Baker? | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Maggio case marches on. Morton talks to investigators. What about Baker?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2015 at 8:18 AM

click to enlarge /GILBERT BAKER: Has he talked to feds in Maggio probe?
  • /GILBERT BAKER: Has he talked to feds in Maggio probe?
Debra Hale-Shelton of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that Fort Smith nursing home owner Michael Morton had spoken with federal investigators in the Mike Maggio bribery case.

Maggio is the former judge who reduced a verdict against a Morton nursing home by $4.2 million. He has since pleaded guilty to bribery by an unnamed party to reduce a nursing home verdict in return for political contributions. No one else has been charged, but facts are that Maggio received contributions from Morton arranged by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker.

Quick comment: It is not at all customary for a target of a criminal investigation to willingly speak with federal investigators. Morton has said all along — he could do no other, given public record — that he made political contributions to Maggio as well as many other candidates for judgeships. He expected nothing tangible in return, he said, just good judges like Maggio..

It is devilishly hard to prove that a campaign contribution amounts to a quid pro quo for action by a public official. Morton's willingness to talk is a scrap of circumstantial evidence that he's not at risk in the federal probe.

It is sometimes easier to prove what conduits for and recipients of campaign money said and did. Particularly when there are phone records and a willing witness to talk about who he talked with.

So my question: Has Gilbert Baker talked to federal investigators? (If I'd been invited to that steak dinner he threw for state legislators out at the ALEC conference in San Diego, maybe I could have asked him then. He has not been talkative about the case.)

Thomas Buchanan, attorney in a lawsuit for the family harmed by Maggio's verdict reduction in the case of a woman whose medical needs weren't met at a Morton nursing home in Greenbrier, has taken out of court sworn testimony from Morton and Baker and many others, with more to come. He's indicated to me that there are differences in testimony about various events.

It is clear from other sources, by the way, that Morton, Maggio and Baker are not the only political figures being considered by federal investigators in this probe. Others received Morton money, too. That's not evidence of a crime, but given Maggio, it's prudent to take a look. 

Gilbert Baker has been identified as the guide for how Morton's money was spent, for, among others,numerous  judicial candidates in Faulkner County and Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood (who got $46,000 from Morton through multiple corporate veils). Morton also sent money, since returned, to the University of Central Arkansas, where Baker then worked as a fund-raiser and lobbyist. UCA President Tom Courtway belatedly realized his bad judgment in employing Baker as a lobbyist and axed him, but Baker remains a tenured member of the music faculty who's been taking time off to lobby for a tobacco company and others. He spent their dimes on slopping legislators in San Diego.

Another former legislator reportedly participated in conversations with Baker about which candidates would best serve the cause of good government if they received money bundled by Baker. If the feds don't find any of this rises to probable cause to believe something criminal occurred, it doesn't mean some of it won't be revealed in Buchanan's civil action. Could be interesting..

PS — Just in case, I inquired of Morton's spokesman, Matt DeCample, if Morton had been granted immunity before talking with investigators. His response:

"...I can't comment on the ongoing investigation beyond confirming that Mr. Morton has cooperated with all requests of federal investigators."

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