Rumors circulating earlier this week were true: Former Republican state Sen. Gilbert Baker has been indicted by a federal grand jury for bribing former Judge Michael Maggio, now serving a 10-year sentence in the case.
Here’s the indictment., Baker faces conspiracy, bribery
He will appear in court Jan. 24.
There were no other indictments related to the case made public today.
We reported earlier this week that Maggio was not in federal prison but had been spotted in Little Rock, leading to a belief that he was cooperating with federal authorities. He got a 10-year sentence originally because prosecutors said he reneged on a promise of cooperation and had been untruthful.
Baker has been a lobbyist in recent years and retained a place as a tenured member of the UCA music faculty. His attorney, Bud Cummins, earlier declined comment when I earlier asked about whether he’d heard from federal prosecutors. Baker had reportedly been seen with Cummins at the U.S. attorney’s office recently. He provided this statement today:
In response to today’s federal indictment, attorneys Richard Watts and Bud Cummins released the following statement on behalf of Gilbert Baker:
“Mr. Baker has consistently maintained, including several times under sworn oath, that at no time did he ask Judge Mike Maggio or Mr. Michael Morton or anybody else to do anything improper or illegal. He has also consistently maintained that at no time did anyone ask him to do anything improper or illegal. All campaign contributions in 2013 were handled lawfully and were transparently reported in public records. After over five years of investigation Mr. Baker is confident that the truth will finally be made known.”
Because of the gravity surrounding any federal indictment and out of respect for the judicial process, Mr. Baker intends to make no further public comment on the matter
Maggio has said he took money in the form of campaign contributions arranged by Baker to reduce a jury verdict in a Faulkner county nursing home negligence case from $5.2 million to $1 million. The home was owned by Michael Morton of Fort Smith, who funneled campaign contributions to Maggio for a race for Court of Appeals. Morton has not been charged. He’s insisted he made legal campaign contributions, but not in return for Maggio’s action. He conceded n a recent magazine article that the timing had an ill appearance. Morton was not charged today and has said he’s been cleared.
That Baker was indicted and did not enter a plea suggests that, if given a chance, he didn’t offer authorities any help in the investigation of others such as Morton.
Today, I got this comment for Morton from his spokesman Matt DeCample:
Mr. Morton maintains that while he made campaign contributions to numerous candidates for the 2014 election, he never asked for anything in return from any candidate. He never discussed reducing a jury verdict in any case with anybody. Morton discussed this at length with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2014 and it remains the truth today.
The indictment details many facts long known. Baker had a consulting firm that funneled money from others to Maggio. The indictment doesn’t give names to other players, but they are well-known from past events, such as Morton’s nursing home company. The indictment says Maggio and Baker conspired “with at least one other person” to benefit “Company A” and “Individual A.” That would be Morton and his company. Another lawyer helped Baker conceal Individual A’s involvement by setting up PACs to receive money to give to Maggio, the indictment said. Little Rock lawyer Chris Stewart established the PACs.
The indictment details a meeting by Baker with “Individual D” a lobbyist and consultant for a trade group that supported tort reform and which was helped by money provided by Baker from “Individual A.” The indictment also mentions “Individual E,” another candidate for judicial office (likely Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood), and “Individual F,” another political consultant. (This is likely Clint Reed, who worked for a time for Maggio’s campaign, but quit it after he landed in trouble for injudicious Internet commentary. Maggio didn’t make the run for Court of Appeals as a scandal grew.)
Some of the key narrative:
In or about early 2013, BAKER agreed to be a fundraiser for Maggio’s campaign for the Court of Appeals.
In or about early May 2013, BAKER met with Maggio and Individual F to discuss Maggio’ s campaign for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. During the meeting,
Individual F told Maggio and BAKER that Maggio would need to raise approximately $100,000 to $150,000 to run a successful campaign. BAKER told Maggio that Maggio would be responsible for smaller donations from friends and family, totaling approximately $25,000 to $50,000, and BAKER would be responsible for covering the difference by raising funds from “industry types” including, among other entities, nursing homes.
On or about May 16, 2013, at approximately 10:33 a.m., BAKER sent a text message to Maggio, stating, “I have a LR lunch today with the nursing home folks. The topic will be judicial races. You are at the top of the list.”
On or about May 16, 2013, at the lunch, which occurred at a restaurant in Little Rock, BAKER approached Individual A and asked Individual A to provide campaign support to Maggio. Individual A agreed to provide campaign support.
On or about May 16, 2013, approximately a half an hour after the jury’s verdict in the civil lawsuit, BAKER and Maggio engaged in the following [four] communications regarding the verdict:
They exchanged more texts the next day.
On or about June 10, 2013, BAKER sent an e-mail to Individual B, stating in part: “I do need the scoop on forming ark.state P ACs. Just a template so we could form as many as 10. Thanks. Gb.”
In or about June 2013, BAKER and Individual A met at a restaurant in Russellville to discuss financial support for Maggio and others. BAKER agreed to send Individual A a fax containing BAKER’ s specific financial requests.
On or about June 29, 2013, at approximately 8:15 a.m., BAKER sent Maggio a text message stating, “Well. Your first 50k is on the way,” which Maggio understood to include support from Individual A, and “When can we take the money?” Maggio replied, “THANK YOU!!!!!! Unfortunately not. Till late November.”
In or about late June or early July 2013, BAKER communicated to Maggio that Individual A was watching the civil lawsuit and would appreciate Maggio making a favorable decision.
In or about late June or early July 2013, BAKER reminded Maggio to act in his official capacity to benefit Individual A in exchange for Individual A providing financial support for Maggio’s campaign by communicating to Maggio, “win lose or draw” Individual A would support Maggio.
On or about July 2, 2013, BAKER sent an e-mail to Individual B [this, according to past public reporting, would be Little Rock lawyer Chris Stewart], which stated in part: “Please get me 3 or 4 PAC names. Thanks.”
Between on or about July 2, 2013 and on or about July 8, 2013, BAKER and Individual B had a telephone conversation in which they discussed and agreed upon names for the eight PACs that BAKER asked Individual B to create, including Citizens for Information Technology (CIT) PAC, Conservative Persons In (CPI) PAC, D. Bruce Hawkins 2 (DBH 2) PAC, Go Good Government (GGG) PAC, Judicial Reform PAC, Red Arkansas PAC, Taxpayers for Change PAC, and Thomas Group In (TGI) PAC. BAKER suggested most of the names.
Individual A, Morton, wrote 10 $3,000 checks for PACs. And more, much of which is in the record already from past reporting.
Pursuant to BAKER’s instructions, on or about July 8, 2013, Individual A sent, or caused an employee to send, the ten $3,000 PAC checks to BAKER’ s home address by Federal Express. The Federal Express package also included two $25,000 checks for Company B, a $100,000 charitable contribution to the university for which BAKER worked, and $48,000 in checks for Individual E’s campaign [Morton gave money to many judicial candidates in 2014, but $48,000 went to now-Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, once a close friend of Maggio]. In total, Individual A provided $228,000 in checks to BAKER.
On July 9, 2013, Baker texted Maggio and individuals who would appear to correspond to Morton, Wood
The indictment details subsequent mechanics on PAC arrangements. The indictment alleges Baker induced Individual B to give campaign contributions to Maggio from himself, wife and law firm in return for an unspecified “bonus.”
On or about November 21, 2013, BAKER caused Individual D to issue a false invoice from his consulting and lobbying firm dated November 1, 2013, for $8,500
On or about November 21, 2013, BAKER caused Individual B to issue a false invoice for Company B dated November 21, 2013, for “Legal Fees” in the amount of $8,000.
On or about November 21, 2013, BAKER sent a text message to Individual B: “Remember 3. 2k checks to Maggio for judge.”‘
On or about November 22, 2013, BAKER organized a fundraiser for Individual E [Rhonda Wood]. Prior to the fundraiser, BAKER changed the date on Individual A’s twentyfour checks from “7-8-13,” the date the checks were written, to “11-22-13,” the second day a judicial candidate could receive campaign contributions. BAKER gave Individual A’s checks to Individual E’s designated campaign representative at the fundraiser.
To date, there’s been no finding that contributions by the same person or corporate entity to multiple PACs that then support the same candidate constitutes a law violation. It is, however, a gaping hole in campaign finance. However, the indictment notes that Baker did something that is legally questionable:
Between in or about November 2013 and in or about January 2014, BAKER caused $18,000 in straw donations to be contributed to Maggio’s campaign, funded by the
$24,500 in “bonuses” from Company B.
The indictment says Maggio deleted text messages to cover up his interactions with Baker (a tipoff that Maggio provided information to prosecutors) and also that he testified untruthfully in an Ethics Commission review of the PAC matter. He had told the Ethics Commission
Public servant bribery is charged because Maggio’s court position was financed by public money. The wire fraud charges stem from checks written to the PACs.
I’m working at nailing down the precise identities of the various unnamed individuals, but I’m reasonably sure they are lobbyists and/or groups that have come up before in reporting on Baker’s fund-raising and Morton’s activities in tort reform, such as support for the Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition, a tort reform group that, over the years, has provided payments to Baker, former Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Michael Lamoureux and former Republican legislator Marvin Parks. None has been named or charged with wrongdoing, I should add. The same could be said for Bruce Hawkins, a lobbyist and former Democratic legislator who created PACs that also received money from Morton.
I’m seeking comments from Justice Wood. It’s not a particularly good place for a Supreme Court member to turn up. She has responded at length on the matter previously and says she did nothing improper in either fund-raising or subsequent judicial work. She refunded contributions to her unopposed race for Supreme Court.
UPDATE: Justice Wood provided this prepared statement:
Let me be as clear as I know how: I have cooperated willfully and fully with the Department of Justice for the past five years to provide it everything I could in order to assist it to arrive at the truth behind the allegations of corruption in the Maggio campaign and Gilbert Baker’s fundraising activities. My goal has always been to serve and achieve justice.
I, along with many others who knew these two men, stepped forward to assist in the interest of justice. Certainly I understand why some see the Baker indictment as tenuous given the changing narrative of the principal player. However, the facts concerning Baker’s conduct in my campaign have been public knowledge for several years and I promptly denounced them when brought to my attention. Any attempt now or in the future to insinuate that I have done anything but act in the interest of furthering justice is false
A civil lawsuit pends against Baker and Morton on behalf of the family of the woman who died in Morton’s nursing home and saw damages reduced by Maggio. The suit has been delayed by Maggio’s continuing appeal of his conviction, recently dropped. The new development likely extends that case still longer. “We’re going to be patient,” said Thomas Buchanan, attorney for the family. “We’re pleased the investigation is still underway.” He noted that many of the details in today’s indictment were mirrored in pre-trial discovery he’s done on his case.