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story.lead_photo.caption Daniel Stewart

The chief public defender for Sebastian County pleaded innocent Monday to a charge of conspiracy to commit rape that was filed the same day in Faulkner County Circuit Court.

Daniel Arthur Stewart, 47, of Fort Smith was arrested last weekend in Fort Smith in an trap set up on the Internet, accused of going to a hotel with the intent to have sex with a fictitious man and his 13-year-old son.

The charge accused Stewart of conspiring to engage in sexual conduct with "another person who is less than 14 years of age."

In a brief video appearance hearing Monday, Faulkner County District Judge David Reynolds set Stewart's bail at $250,000, ordered him, if released, to wear an electronic monitoring device and to surrender his passport, chief deputy prosecutor Hugh Finkelstein said after the hearing. Stewart remained in the Faulkner County jail as of 4 p.m. Monday.

Stewart's arraignment was scheduled for April 18 before Circuit Judge Charles Clawson.

Stewart was represented in the hearing by Robert . Berry, with the James Law Firm of Little Rock, Finkelstein said.

Conspiracy to commit rape is a Class A felony punishable by six to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

As chief public defender, Stewart's office covered the 12th Judicial District, which is composed of the Fort Smith and Greenwood divisions of Sebastian County.

Arkansas Public Defender Commission Executive Director Gregg Parrish, who attended Stewart's initial appearance, said he accepted Stewart's resignation Monday. Parrish was in the office in Fort Smith on Monday afternoon reviewing Stewart's cases and deciding how they would be divided among the attorneys in the office.

He said Stewart had 140 to 150 active criminal cases. The Sebastian County office has eight attorneys, Parrish said, but not all of them handle adult criminal cases. He said he hoped to sort things out, including appointment of an interim chief public defender, by today.

Stewart was arrested in Fort Smith on Saturday by Faulkner County sheriff's detectives and FBI agents at a hotel where he had made arrangements to meet and have sex with who he thought was a Faulkner County man and his 13-year-old son, according to an arrest-warrant affidavit filed in the case.

The man turned out to be a Faulkner County deputy in the sheriff office's Internet crimes unit. Agency spokesman Adam Bledsoe said the unit works full time uncovering Internet crimes and has made 11 arrests in the past few months.

The investigation of Stewart began when an undercover officer in the unit came across an online ad Feb. 1 in which a person was searching to make contact with a "young guy" or "son." The officer responded to the ad that he was a 42-year-old man with a 13-year-old son.

"During the chat, the suspect expressed a sexual interest in having sexual contact with both my adult undercover profile and the undercover profile's 13-year-old son," the affidavit said.

The officer was able to identify the suspect as Stewart using information obtained from the chat, the suspect's Kik user name and the Kik profile photograph, the affidavit said. Kik Messenger is a cellphone application used for instant messaging.

According to the affidavit, the officer and Stewart discussed arrangements for him to travel to Conway on Saturday to meet at a hotel there for sexual contact with the fictitious man and boy.

Stewart said he had been ill and wasn't able to make the two-hour drive from Fort Smith to Conway but suggested they meet him in Fort Smith. The undercover officer accepted the invitation.

About 5 p.m. Saturday, the officer sent a text message to Stewart that he was almost in Fort Smith and to meet him at the local hotel they agreed on. When Stewart walked into the lobby 15 minutes later, the affidavit said, he was met by the Faulkner County sheriff's detectives and FBI agents.

During questioning at the Fort Smith Police Department, Stewart denied having any intention of having "inappropriate or illegal contact with an underage child," according to the affidavit.

The affidavit said Stewart admitted placing the Internet ad, receiving emails from the undercover officer, chatting with him through the Kik application and making the arrangements to meet with the fictitious man and boy at the hotel.

He refused to provide his iPhone pass code.

State Desk on 03/22/2016

Print Headline: Public defender: Innocent; He went to Fort Smith hotel to meet boy for sex, file says

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