Sen. Jake Files pleads guilty to fraud, money laundering charges | Arkansas Blog

Monday, January 29, 2018

Sen. Jake Files pleads guilty to fraud, money laundering charges

Posted By on Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 4:04 PM

click to enlarge SEN. JAKE FILES: Pleads guilty to fraud, money laundering.
  • SEN. JAKE FILES: Pleads guilty to fraud, money laundering.
State Sen. Jake Files, 45, a Fort Smith Republican, pleaded guilty in federal court today to charges of wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.

He apparently plans to resign his Senate seat.

Files' plea related to misuse of General Improvement Fund money appropriated by the legislature and pledging a forklift he did not own as collateral for a $56,700 bank loan.

Court documents say Files misspent state GIF money designated for a sports complex at Fort Smith that his construction company was supposed to build but never completed. He  admitted falsifying bids for a water line on that project that was awarded to an employee. She said she gave Files the money and used it to pay workers of his construction company as well as keeping some for himself.

The 40/29 summary:

Between August 2016 and December 2016, Files directed the Western Arkansas Economic Development District to award $46,500 in taxpayer [GIF] funds to the City of Fort Smith, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Files had submitted three fraudulent bids to the district to facilitate the release of the money.

Files then had an associate open a bank account for him under her name. When the money came into Fort Smith, that associate withdrew $11,900 in the form of a check to FFH Construction, Files' construction company. She withdrew the rest in cash, and then gave all the money to Files.

Files then put the check into his personal bank account.
Criminal charges had been expected. Files' financial troubles were well-known. They surfaced when he got a loan from a lobbyist, Bruce Hawkins, to help pay bills. The troubled sports project, multiple liens and the loss of his house to foreclosure have been among the Files-related headlines in recent months.

Files, a senator since 2011, had said he wouldn't seek re-election this year. He'll be sentenced after completion of a probation office report. But the fiscal session of the legislature is soon to begin. I've asked Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang for a comment about Files' continued service as an admitted felon. Files has been chairman of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee and, in 2017, sponsored legislation that allowed fines and enhanced damages against people who make false claims to state and local government for payments.

UPDATE: Late in the afternoon, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Twitter

I have spoken with Senator Files today, and he has indicated that he plans to submit his resignation to my office in the coming days. After learning of his guilty plea to felony charges in federal court earlier Monday, I believe this is the appropriate decision

While I've known & respected the Files family for many years, it's essential that voters are able to trust elected officials to have the public’s interest free from criminal conduct. Given today's news it's clear he will not be able to fulfill his obligations to his constituents.

His guilty plea had earlier prompted a renewed call from the Arkansas Democratic Party that he resign.

"We've called for Sen. Files resignation before, and today we're demanding it again," Rep. Michael John Gray, Democratic Party Chairman said. "In pleading guilty, Sen. Files is admitting to the corruption that he and the Republican party have denied for months. I call on Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb and Governor Asa Hutchinson to demand his resignation immediately. If Governor Hutchinson doesn't demand his resignation, he'll be turning his back on corruption."
Dismang responded to me later:

I understand the severity of Senator Files actions and that he has taken appropriate responsibility for those actions with today’s plea agreement. I consider Jake a friend and I’ll be praying for him and his family. Regarding his resignation, it is my understanding that Senator Files plans to resign and I’ll be working with staff to make sure that the proper process is followed.
A special election  must be called by the governor to fill a vacancy. An initial queston would be whether political parties want a primary election to select a nominee or prefer to do so by a convention.

Files is the second legislator to plead guilty to a felony in the misuse of GIF money. Former Republican Rep. Micah Neal has pleaded guilty to participating in a kickback scheme involving hundreds of thousands funneled to Ecclesia College, a church in Springdale. Former Republican Sen. Jon Woods has been charged in that case and is awaiting trial. In Files' plea agreement he agreed to the obvious in milions spent in GIF money, legislators had the say over where the money went.

Here are the particulars of the charges, filed in court today.

Files is being represented by a public defender. His plea agreement includes the acknowledgment of guilt and willingness to cooperate with the government. The government agrees not to object to a downward departure from sentencing guidelines for his cooperation. He's free on a $5,000 bond.

Files departure, as early as tomorrow, is a loss of a vote in support of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare that the governor has dubbed Arkansas Works. Each year, the fight to continue program has had some drama because of a hard-core group of  Republicans that oppose any spending on the program. That debate undoubtedly will continue.



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