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Ouachita County judge accused of bribery, conspiracy charges

By David Harten

This article was originally published January 17, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. Updated January 17, 2013 at 8:29 p.m.

James Michael Hesterly

— The Ouachita County judge has been indicted on federal bribery and conspiracy charges involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A release from the office of United States Attorney Conner Eldridge states that James Michael Hesterly, 47, along with Harry Clemons, Jr., 39, were accused of conspiring to acquire funds through FEMA's disaster relief in exchange for a contribution to Hesterly's 2010 campaign for Ouchita County judge.

According to the release, the plan was set into motion in March 2010 with the contract initially going toward cleaning up debris following two tornadoes in the county in October 2009, in exchange for the campaign contribution.

Two other bidders were purportedly set up by Clemons to submit inflated bids to Hesterley, then the two men met in Hesterly's office to submit Clemons' bid of $120,730, which was a lower amount than the previous two bids. Hesterly accepted Clemons' bid on March 26, 2010 and on April 8 applied for federal funding from FEMA help the county pay for the contract, with Hesterly telling FEMA officials Clemons' bid was the lowest he had received.

Prosecutors assert that the bid was not properly advertised and that no sealed bidding process occurred, which are both violations of state law.

Clemons submitted that all the work had been completed in August 2010 and requested payment of $69,865 for his company, Clemons Construction. Later that month, Hesterly certified to the state and FEMA that the work had been completed. He signed an order for the payment to be processed on Oct. 13 of that year.

Both men were brought up on one count of conspiracy to defraud an agency of the United States and one count of bribery concerning a program receiving state funds.

If convicted, Hesterly and Clemons could face up to 15 years in prison. Both men are set to be arraigned at 10 a.m. Friday at the federal courthouse in El Dorado.

Read more about this story in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 total comments

Walter says... January 17, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.

IF convicted...?

( | suggest removal )

razor6 says... January 17, 2013 at 7:48 p.m.

this was a set up by someone who doesn' t like the judge!

( | suggest removal )

4carl2c says... January 17, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.

The whole world seems to have become crooked.........

( | suggest removal )

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