State prepares for federal probe of legislators' records | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

State prepares for federal probe of legislators' records

Posted By on Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 7:24 AM

The Bureau of Legislative Research has hired the politically power-packed MItchell law firm (lobbyists and other political connections galore) of Little Rock to represent the interests of lawmakers in expected visits from federal investigators in an unspecified probe.

The recent flurry of coverage about this leaves me a little puzzled.

It's been clear for some time that the feds have continued to probe the manner in which state surplus money was doled out at legislators' direction for pet projects. That is NOT a crime, though I still think it has been done in contravention of the state Constitution. A pending appeal of a ruling by Judge Chris Piazza will decide where the Arkansas Supreme Court falls on that question.

It IS illegal to taking kickbacks for guiding such money to beneficiaries. One former legislator, Micah Neal, has pleaded guilty to this offense. Another, Jon Woods, has been indicted and awaits trial.

The FBI came calling for records of planning and development districts that doled out the money some time ago. Apparently they'd like to look at Capitol records too. If they come with subpoenas, I don't think the legislative working papers exception to the Freedom of Information Act offers them any shield, so I'm not entirely clear why $295-an-hour Mitchell firm help is needed for guidance in the matter.

You'd hope legislators — as stupid and crooked as some undoubtedly are — would know better than to leave e-mails to legislative staff saying: "I want $10,000 in GIF money to go to the Bumfuzzle Goat Rodeo. This is important. I'm getting a $1,000 kickback." But the correspondence could identify confederates with stories to tell.

At some point, you'd think statutes of limitation might begin to run. It has been more than four years since an Arkansas nursing home owner, aided by a former Republican senator, poured big money into a planned judicial race by a judge who promptly reduced a huge jury verdict against the nursing home owner. The judge pleaded guilty and then thought better of it. No charges against anyone else have been filed.

I think the rising belief that there's more to come most likely lies in the unindicted person with connections to the matter that landed Micah Neal and Jon Woods in court. A lobbyist and executive of a company that has received major handouts from surplus money, he has been referenced obliquely in their cases. Might he be providing feds a roadmap?

The wheels of justice grind on.


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