Former Arkansas state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson appeared in federal court Tuesday to change his pleas on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion. He had originally faced 25 counts stemming from three separate cases in Arkansas and Missouri. Before U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, Hutchinson changed his pleas in two of those cases to guilty.
The Republican is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson and the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Jeremy Hutchinson pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false tax return for using $150,000 of campaign funds for personal expenses, including family vacations and a Netflix subscription. He resigned from the legislature following that indictment last August. Hutchinson had faced 12 counts of wire and tax fraud in that case, to which he had initially pleaded not guilty.
He entered a second guilty plea in a case that had only surfaced earlier in the week. An unidentified owner of four orthodontic practices in Arkansas allegedly bribed Hutchinson under the guise of legal fees to influence legislative decisions.
That case is similar to the still-ongoing case in Missouri, in which Hutchinson is accused of receiving bribes for legislative favors for a Medicaid-funded healthcare services company. Hutchinson will appear in court in Missouri's Western District on July 8, where he’s expected to plead guilty to one bribery charge in that case.
Hutchinson will be sentenced on the two charges he currently faces within the next 90 days, and along with the Missouri case, could spend as much as 13 years in prison with as much as $600,000 in fines.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti outlined Hutchinson's involvement in the orthodontic scheme during Tuesday's hearing. The orthodontic practice owner, identified as "Individual A," had directed Hutchinson while he was serving on the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to put a hold on the budget of the State Board of Dental Examiners as a way of pressuring the board to change the state Dental Practices Act.
"Individual A" sought to have a so-called "specialist restriction" struck from state law, which forbids dental specialists from providing services beyond their area of expertise. The individual also sought to loosen a statute restricting oral hygienists from performing certain dental tasks.
Four businesses owned by "Individual A" paid Hutchinson’s law firm $157,000 between February 2014 and November 2016 to accomplish the individual’s legislative objectives.
Hutchinson's attorney Tim Dudley did not offer any comment to reporters following the hearing, saying only that it was Hutchinson’s decision to initially plead not guilty, then later plead guilty to the charges.
In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, "I am deeply saddened with this breach of the public trust. As a public official, I know the damage this does to public confidence and trust in our elected officials. We should all double our efforts to do the right thing in public office and to restore the public trust.
"As my nephew, I hurt for him and his children. My prayers will continue for Jeremy, and I am hopeful this chapter of Arkansas political history will soon come to a close."