Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, a former Democratic legislator from Pine Bluff, pleaded guilty on Monday to “conspiring to accept over $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas state legislation and transactions,” the office of U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland announced in a press release late this afternoon.
The bribes were concealed as donations to the St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, where Wilkins served as pastor, the release states.
Among the favors Wilkins provided in return: “steering approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement funds to his co-conspirators.”
News of Wilkins’ illegal dealings first broke in March at a bond hearing for Rusty Cranford, the former lobbyist whose widespread dealings in the Arkansas legislature have been linked to multiple unfolding federal corruption probes. At that hearing, an assistant U.S. attorney said Wilkins had given a statement to FBI agents that he had taken $100,000 in bribes from Cranford while he served in the state legislature.
At the time, Wilkins was serving as Jefferson County Judge. He resigned later that month.
The crimes to which Wilkins has pleaded guilty appear to be consistent with the statements that emerged at Cranford’s March bond hearing. But much more is to come. The information attached to the plea agreement contains a wealth of information about the alleged co-conspirators in this bribery scheme, as well as the “state legislation and transactions” Wilkins has admitted to influencing in exchange for the payments. Stay tuned while we dig into the details.
In the meantime, here’s the press release:
FORMER ARKANSAS STATE SENATOR AND REPRESENTATIVE PLEADS GUILTY TO CONSPIRACY AND BRIBERY
LITTLE ROCK—Former Arkansas State Senator and State Representative Henry (Hank) Wilkins IV pleaded guilty today to conspiring to accept over $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas state legislation and transactions, including steering approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement funds to his co-conspirators. Wilkins also pleaded guilty to devising a scheme to conceal the bribe payments as donations to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where Wilkins also served as a pastor.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Cody Hiland, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch made the announcement following a hearing before Chief United States District Judge Brian S. Miller.
“By misusing his elected office to line his own pockets, Henry Wilkins undermined the integrity of our political process and abused the public’s trust,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “The Criminal Division is committed to rooting out such corruption and holding those responsible accountable for their actions.” “Public corruption destroys the trust that is necessary for our republic,” Hiland said. “In this case, the citizens of Arkansas were betrayed by Mr. Wilkins, and elected officials who abuse their position for personal gain must be held accountable for that
violation of the public trust. Investigating and prosecuting individuals such as Mr. Wilkins is essential to restoring confidence in elected officials. This office will continue to relentlessly pursue anyone who tries to undermine our system of government.”
Wilkins, 64, of Pine Bluff, who represented Arkansas’s House District 17 as a state Representative from 1999 to 2001 and again from 2011 to 2015, and District 5 in the Arkansas Senate from 2001-2011, pleaded guilty before Judge Miller to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, namely honest services fraud and bribery.
As part of his plea, Wilkins admitted that from 2010 to 2014, while serving in the Arkansas General Assembly, he accepted a series of bribes from lobbyists and non-profit organizations that were transmitted both in the form of cash and checks funneled from lobbying firms to a discretionary fund held in St. James’ name where Wilkins had access to the deposited funds. In exchange for the cash and check bribes, Wilkins performed, and agreed to perform, official acts in his capacity as an Arkansas legislator including filing shell bills, sponsoring bills, voting in favor of specific legislation, and steering approximately $245,000 in General Improvement funds to entities that funneled bribes to Wilkins through his church.
“Wilkins took an oath to uphold the law and protect the citizens of Arkansas,” SAC Upchurch said. “Instead, Wilkins betrayed the community he swore to protect. We appreciate the commitment made by our partners, the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice and the United States Attorneys’ Offices for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Western District of Arkansas, and the Western District of Missouri.”
The charge of conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States carries a maximum penalty of not more than five years’ imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years supervised release. Judge Miller will sentence Wilkins
at a later date.
The FBI investigated this case. Trial Attorney Marco A. Palmieri of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie Mazzanti and Patrick C. Harris of the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Ben Wulff of the Western District of Arkansas are prosecuting the case. This is a combined investigation with the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western District of Arkansas, and the Western District of Missouri.