KATV has dug up a story on questionable dealings by a familiar public figure — former state Sen. Bill Walker, who headed the state Career Education Department during the administration of Gov. Mike Beebe.
Through FOI requests, KATV has unearthed a DFA internal audit of a tipster’s allegation that agency grants totaling $18,000 had been steered to relatives of Walker — about $6,000 each to his sister and two cousins. They were to aid the relatives (who apparently did qualify for rehab services support) in establishing multi-level marketing companies for selling nutritional products. The audit found the applicants hadn’t met all qualifications for participation in the grants program. It also recommended not allowing use of the grants for risky pyramid marketing companies in the future.
The audit attempted to determine whether Walker himself had an interest in the enterprises — New York-based 5linx and its related company VettJett — but said it got a corporate response that the company would only respond to subpoena. Charisse Childers, who now heads the Career Education Department, responded to the audit that the agency had begun a procedure to cancel some pending payments to Walker’s relatives and also was continuing to attempt to determine if Walker himself had a means to share in the proceeds. The law prohibits self-dealing by state employees. Globalinx, a subsidiary of 5linx, also apparently beat out major telephone companies to get a contract to update phone services in four agency offices.
KATV also found email from Walker on his government account promoting a business he and another man hoped to launch in Memphis. Walker signed the email as national director of Team Rock Nation, along with another former state agency employee. KATV has identified this as another component of 5linx.
The Arkansas Blog has written about his agency’s real estate business with an old friend and Beebe backer, Richard Mays. Beebe stood behind Walker throughout his rocky tenure, at least in part because Walker was an early political supporter when Beebe, though a prominent senator, lacked a base in the important black voter segment. Walker jumped over to Beebe after working for Republican Mike Huckabee. Walker’s problems at Career Education included a critical audit of the Rehabilitation Services Division and firing of its chief; controversy over hiring of deaf interpreters; a lawsuit verdict over the firing of a whistle blower at a Hot Springs rehabilitation center, and the real estate dealings.
Jason Pederson at KATV is reporting further tonight at 10 on the results of his investigation. The information KATV obtained indicates preliminary findings have been sent on to the State Police and Legislative Audit for further review. Pederson was attempting to arrange an interview with Walker when we last corresponded at mid-afternoon.
UPDATE: Here’s a more extensive report from KATV, including responses from Walker. He says his work for the multi-level marketing company was done on his own time. He said his sister did receive a grant, but the others were not his cousins. He said he might have encouraged people to participate in 5linx, but not on state time. He said businesses that became successful, including those helped by state grants, could eventually produce benefits for him. But he said he wasn’t involved in the process that led to grants from his agency.
Pederson’s report says Walker got a new BMW in March as a result of his work in enlisting people in 5linx activities.
A DF&A investigation found that “Mr. Walker is a representative of 5Linx and has promoted the business to other employees.”
For a look at the investigative report click here.
“I don’t know what they mean by promoted it to other employees,” says Walker. “If you’re saying did I go up and say look, Jason, here’s an opportunity you may want to consider….I didn’t do that at work. I was very careful to do my 5Linx business on my own time.”
Another link to 5Linx…Walker’s business partner, Michael Vickers, was paid over $8,000.00 by Walker’s state agency last year as an independent contractor.
“Everything that is alleged here if you will in this document…there is a process by which these things occur,” explains Walker. “And I’m not directly involved in those processes at any point.”