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Sunday September 20th, 2020 6:43AM

Arkansas governor's nephew leaves state Senate amid charges

By The Associated Press
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson resigned from the state Senate on Friday after being charged with spending thousands of dollars in campaign funds on personal expenses, including a Caribbean cruise, tuition payments and groceries, prosecutors announced Friday.

Former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, a Republican who wasn't seeking re-election, is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. Federal prosecutors allege that from 2010 through 2017, he used campaign money to pay for personal expenses that also included Netflix fees, jewelry, a gym membership and his utility bills. They say he tried to hide it by falsifying campaign finance reports and tax filings.

Hutchinson, who is due in court Sept. 18, issued a statement saying he will fight the charges.

"I do not agree with decisions that have led us to this place, but I am powerless to control those decisions. However, I continue to believe in our system of justice and will trust that it will produce a fair and just result in this case," he said.

His attorneys called the allegations "inaccurate," and said the lawmaker had been cooperating with the federal government for more than five years in the investigation. Hutchinson resigned his Senate seat, effective immediately, in a letter the governor's office received late Friday afternoon.

Hutchinson is the latest in a string of Arkansas legislators to face accusations from federal prosecutors of corruption. None of the others are still serving in the Legislature. Another Republican lawmaker faces charges in state court after prosecutors said he failed to file income tax returns for 15 years, but has not stepped down.

Rusty Cranford, a lobbyist who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in June, said in court documents that he bribed a lawmaker identified only as "Senator A." Hutchinson attorney Tim Dudley has acknowledged that Hutchinson is the lawmaker referred to, but he denied the allegations.

The indictment unsealed Friday doesn't refer to those accusations, but prosecutors had asked to keep Hutchinson's indictment sealed until Friday to avoid interfering with an ongoing investigation in the Western District of Missouri, where Cranford's case was prosecuted.

Hutchinson has served in the state Senate since 2011 and chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who said he had "full faith" in his son's innocence.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement saying he supports his nephew's decision to step down in the face of the charges.

"As an uncle, my heart aches for Jeremy's children and expanded family. This is a tough time, and it will not get any easier in the coming months," the governor said. "As a political leader, I know the United States Attorney always reminds the public that these charges are only allegations and he is presumed innocent, but the reality is that the charges alone undermine public confidence in our system of government."

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