Arkansas State Senator Indicted
DAVID A. LIEB
Apr. 28, 1999
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Four current or former Arkansas lawmakers, including the most powerful member of the Arkansas Senate, are accused of taking kickbacks and arranging government contracts for personal benefit.
The federal racketeering indictment named state Sen. Nick Wilson and nine other people on charges of mail fraud, obstruction of justice and money laundering.
U.S. Attorney Paula Casey said Tuesday the scheme involved the ``corruption of the Arkansas General Assembly with Wilson as the leader and primary decision-maker and planner.''
The indictment alleges that Wilson netted $1.3 million through fraudulent contracts and kickbacks, benefiting from a $3 million grant program he helped set up in 1997.
The grants pay for legal work performed on behalf of children caught in the middle of custody cases and for attempts to enforce payment of child support money.
Prosecutors say Wilson submitted bills under that program for work he never performed, and directed attorneys to pay him kickbacks for work they performed.
The program was halted soon after it began, when news reports raised questions about its propriety.
Also indicted were state Sen. Mike Bearden, former state Sens. Mike Todd and Steve Bell _ all Democrats like Wilson _ two former directors of the state Education Department, three lawyers, and a Little Rock businessman.
Wilson, a Democrat, is considered one of the state Senate's most powerful members because of his 28 years in office and his skills as a power broker.
Bill Walmsley, an attorney for Wilson, said he expected the senator to plead innocent.
``Any time that you have a citizen Legislature such as Arkansas has, where those legislators basically make their living with work outside of their legislative duties, there always are fine lines,'' Walmsley said.
Bell denied wrongdoing. Attorneys for the others did not return calls seeking comment.