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VIDEO: Hardin pleads guilty to federal charges

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published March 7, 2011 at 10:15 a.m. Updated March 7, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.

lu-hardin-and-his-wife-mary-leave-the-federal-courthouse-in-little-rock-on-march-7-shortly-after-lu-hardin-entered-guilty-pleas-on-charges-of-wire-fraud-and-money-laundering

Lu Hardin and his wife, Mary, leave the federal courthouse in Little Rock on March 7 shortly after Lu Hardin entered guilty pleas on charges of wire fraud and money laundering.

— Former University of Central Arkansas President Lu Hardin pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges of wire fraud and money laundering related to a scheme to deceive the school's board of trustees into giving him nearly $200,000.

Hardin entered guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge James Moody shortly after 10 a.m. He repeatedly told the judge he was "taking full responsibility" for his actions, which occurred months before he resigned from UCA in 2008. The federal investigation grew out of reporting by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Hardin did not answer questions as he left the courtroom alongside his wife and his attorney, Chuck Banks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Harris said in court that Hardin's criminal activity began in April 2008 when he forged a letter to the board of trustees suggesting it was legal for a $300,000 deferred compensation package to be paid to Hardin immediately. The letter purported to be signed by UCA officials, including its vice president and chief counsel, but it was actually written by Hardin without their knowledge.

"The letter was false," Harris said. "Mr. Hardin knew it was false ... He intended to deceive the board of trustees."

The board approved the request and Hardin received $198,000 of the bonus, which was to be paid 5 years after the compensation package was set in 2005. Harris said Hardin needed the money to pay off "pressing financial debts."

Hardin resigned effective Sept. 16, 2008, after controversy erupted over the awarding of the bonus.

Hardin had been working as the president of Palm Beach Atlantic University, but he abruptly resigned that position on Friday.

Sentencing will be done at a later date. The wire fraud count carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison while the money laundering conviction is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Each carries a fine of up to $250,000.

Moody advised Hardin and Banks that he would look at federal sentencing guidelines in determining the sentence, but noted they are not mandatory. Hardin told the judge he and his attorney had considered the guidelines, which offer a range of sentencing options based on numerous factors.

"We have in detail looked at the sentencing guidelines and fully understand downward departure to be a possibility," Hardin said, suggesting some of the factors could produce a lighter sentence. "... We've analyzed this in detail."

Moody said there would be no restitution ordered because Hardin has already paid the money back. Hardin said during the proceeding that it was repaid "within several weeks of the loss."

UCA board Chairman Scott Roussel said Monday: “Our current administration has made great strides in creating a stronger, more accountable and transparent university,” “We hope today’s news brings to a close that chapter in UCA’s history and we have moved forward as a university.”

Hardin was a Democratic state senator who ran unsuccessfully ran for his party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in 1996. That December, Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee named him interim head of the Arkansas Higher Education Department, and the following April the interim tag was dropped.

Hardin, who later switched allegiances to the Republican Party, was named president of UCA in 2002 with a strong recommendation from Huckabee.

Huckabee said Monday he still considered Hardin a friend.

“Of course I’m disappointed by his actions and saddened for Lu and his family. I’m sure there is a long line of people who will rain condemnation on him, but I’ve always preferred shorter lines. So I’ll form one for his real friends to still love him, pray for him and stand with him when he needs us the most,” Huckabee said.

Hardin, who was treated for eye cancer while at UCA, faced criticism from faculty who were angry he had informed the board his deferred compensation package did not have to be voted on in public. Hardin put the information in a memo bearing the typed names of three university vice presidents.

At the time, Hardin said the agreement should have been discussed in public.

Gov. Mike Beebe said he was taken aback by Hardin’s fall.

“It’s sad for everybody involved that he got himself into that position,” Beebe said. “I always thought he would never even entertain making up a document or doing anything like what apparently he’s admitted he’s done.”

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Thank you for coming to the Web site of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We're working to keep you informed with the latest breaking news.

Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press

Comments on: VIDEO: Hardin pleads guilty to federal charges

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howboutthemhogs says... March 7, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.

Now we know why he resigned his job in Florida, or wherever he went after he left UCA. They must have made him a heck of a deal.

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genemcvay_aol_com says... March 7, 2011 at 11:25 a.m.

One of Mike Huckabee's cronies who switched parties. Huckabee kept all the Democrat Cabinet Members too, as I recall. What ever happened to Lieutenant Colonel Ed Rollie who was very close to Huckabee. I recall that Rollie, Frank White & H.D. McCarty selected Huckabee's Adjutant General for him. Rollie was a leader in Employment Security and then vanished?

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RLB says... March 7, 2011 at 11:50 a.m.

Knew he was a crook. Yet, everybody sucked up to him for years. I'm pleased this was not dropped. I'm sure he thought he was clear by running to FL. Hope they give him the max!

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TheBatt says... March 7, 2011 at 12:14 p.m.

Lest we forget that Lu was a huge friend of the Clintons, and was a Democrat for almost all of his political career, only switching parties when he thought it would be politically expedient.

This whole thing grieves me as a UCA Alum. While Hardin did accomplish some good at the institution, his legacy will be the fraud, along with the financial damage he brought to the university.

Of course, the article indicates that his sentence may be "light"... of course.

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OpinionatedArky says... March 7, 2011 at 12:20 p.m.

I hope that he gets more than a "slap on the hand". The last portion of the article seems to indicate that he could get a lesser penalty. Unfortunately people that are part of a "good old boy" system are no held responsible to the same degree as the common citizen. Confession should not provide amnesty. May justice be served equally to all.

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Riverrodent says... March 7, 2011 at 12:52 p.m.

Due to his pleading guilty without a trial smells of a plea deal. My guess is, if there is a sentence at all, it will be 1 year tops, and actual time served will probably never exceed 90 days.

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HopefulN2012 says... March 7, 2011 at 1:03 p.m.

Yo, Lu, you piece of dung, ask Jim Guy Tucker for advice.
Hardin will have some health problem that will grant him "Home-Bound".
He'll never serve a day in court.

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gshogan says... March 7, 2011 at 1:30 p.m.

I get real tired of hearing about all this corruption. It seems like the people that make the most money seem to be the biggest crooks. I think that they need to give him the maximum sentence. I agree that he probably won't spend a day in jail.

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LulaMae says... March 7, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.

This is so terrible. You have to wonder what happens to a person to go from being an upstanding member of the community (really) to get this desperate.

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racinghoman01040838 says... March 7, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.

I knew this Guy was a Damn crook from the get -go........... wonder what else could be uncoved as far as criminal activity during Governor Gomers 10 years as Gov of this state.? Suprise......... Suprise!!!!!

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