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story.lead_photo.caption Former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (left) is shown in this file photo with his father, former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

A federal judge in Little Rock will allow former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson to file court documents under seal -- where they are shielded from the public -- in support of his motion to dismiss all 12 counts of wire and tax fraud against him.

Attorneys for Hutchinson asked U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker last week to throw out the charges, claiming the FBI obtained evidence illegally from a laptop stolen by Hutchinson's ex-girlfriend and destroyed evidence that would have helped the three-term state senator.

In a related motion, the lawyers asked to file 14 exhibits under seal that they say support dismissing the charges but contain information that "has the potential to prejudice a jury pool."

Eleven of the exhibits also pertain to a protective order, defense attorneys claim.

Federal prosecutors have told the court they don't oppose Hutchinson's motion to seal the 14 exhibits, Baker wrote in her order filed late Friday.

A federal grand jury on Aug. 30 indicted Hutchinson, a Little Rock Republican and a nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson.

Jeremy Hutchinson has pleaded innocent to the charges, which allege he misspent campaign donations and underreported income on federal tax filings. He resigned his state Senate seat Aug. 31 and is free without bail.

Hutchinson's lawyer, Tim Dudley of Little Rock, said Monday it's not unusual for documents to be filed under seal in federal court, though he hasn't made that request himself until now. Dudley declined to comment further on the exhibits or the case.

Hutchinson's motion for dismissal of charges also asks that, if Baker allows the case to go forward, she suppress any illegal evidence.

The FBI's actions "reveal a pattern of gross misconduct" by federal agents that violated Hutchinson's constitutional rights, the motion says.

An ex-girlfriend of Hutchinson, identified only as "Individual-1," stole his laptop, cellphone and other electronic devices from his home after he ended their relationship, according to a memorandum filed by the defense in support of the motion.

She went to the FBI on Aug. 20, 2012 with the devices. She claimed that Hutchinson paid her with campaign money even though she did little work, and that he accepted pay from a client, identified as "Client-1," to pass favorable state legislation, the motion says.

Hutchinson's attorneys allege that the woman's claims are false and that she later assaulted Hutchinson at his home and vandalized an apartment he rented for her.

Federal agents didn't have a warrant or permission to search Hutchinson's laptop or other electronic devices, their motion alleges. Agents also conducted "coercive" interviews and later, during a period when they temporarily dropped the Hutchinson investigation, destroyed evidence from the laptop that would have supported the former state senator's innocence, according to the defense filing.

The motion names two FBI agents: Michael Lowe and Robert Cessario.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office have declined to comment on the allegations. Typically, prosecutors respond later in written court filings.

Cessario has admitted wiping the hard drive of a computer used to gather evidence in a political corruption case against former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale.

Woods was convicted by a federal jury in May on 15 fraud-related counts involving taking kickbacks in return for authorizing Arkansas General Improvement Fund grants. Woods has appealed and is serving an 18-year sentence.

Jeremy Hutchinson also has been linked to a federal bribery investigation involving a Missouri-based nonprofit health care provider, Preferred Family Healthcare Inc., and former Arkansas Capitol lobbyist and PFH executive Milton "Rusty" Cranford.

Cranford has pleaded guilty to paying bribes to "Senator A," identified as Jeremy Hutchinson. No charges have been filed against Hutchinson related to those allegations.

The federal investigations involving Hutchinson, Cranford and Woods are part of a three-state public corruption probe that has ensnared at least six former Arkansas lawmakers.

Metro on 02/12/2019

Print Headline: Shielded exhibits OK'd for former Arkansas senator's tax case

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