On Monday, the first day of a two-day hearing on former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson's effort to get his wire and tax fraud charges thrown out, a federal judge heard details about his tumultuous relationships with two women and what federal prosecutors say is his track record of dishonesty.
Hutchinson, 45, of Little Rock -- the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the son of former U.S. Rep. Tim Hutchinson -- was indicted Aug. 30 on eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. He is accused of stealing more than $150,000 in campaign contributions between 2010 and 2017, and of failing to report more than $271,000 in income taxes in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
A jury trial is scheduled to begin July 8.
Hutchinson has asked U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to dismiss the case, saying it stemmed from an illegal search of his laptop computer, which an ex-girlfriend gave to FBI agents in 2012. Hutchinson, an attorney, also says the investigation was tainted by an agent's coercive tactics and the agency's destruction of potentially exculpatory evidence that was on the laptop, which he said included confidential client files.
While he contends his former girlfriend, Julie McGee, stole the Sony VAIO laptop from his apartment after one of their many break-ups, prosecutors say he abandoned the device. They pointed out that he had several opportunities to report it stolen, but Hutchinson said he was hamstrung in reporting the theft because he didn't want to attract news reports that could harm his reputation.
Federal prosecutors tried to show that Hutchinson was having a hard time meeting his financial obligations during the period covered by the indictment and that he was juggling funds between bank accounts, implying a motivation in the theft of campaign funds.
Under questioning by Ben Wulff, an assistant U.S. attorney based in Texarkana, Hutchinson admitted that in 2015, he bought a Jeep from a man for $22,000 and then signed a bill of sale -- which the state uses to calculate the amount of sales taxes owed -- indicating he had paid just $3,000 for the vehicle.
"Why would somebody do this?" Wulff asked.
"Less sales taxes," Hutchinson replied. Then, referring to the seller, he quickly added, "But he filled that out."
During a lengthy cross-examination by Wulff, Hutchinson also acknowledged that while going through a divorce in the spring of 2011 from Stephanie Hutchinson, the mother of his three children, he was having trouble getting banks to approve a $440,000 loan to buy a condominium. He acknowledged that he took out a $50,000 commercial loan from Centennial Bank and used $44,000 of the funds to make a down payment on the loan at First Security Bank, without disclosing to First Security that the down payment came from a loan. Hutchinson said the commercial loan was legitimately used for business because at that point he worked out of his condominium.
Hutchinson testified that he wanted that particular condominium because it was "three minutes away" from his former home and his kids, but that after paying $10,000 in earnest money, he found out that his wife had sold their house and was moving with the kids to Fayetteville.
He said he tried to get out of buying the condominium after he realized he could find a home much cheaper in Saline County, but the seller threatened to sue him, so he told the seller to keep the earnest money and took out the business loan.
Hutchinson had begun answering the questions by saying he didn't remember having trouble securing finances for the condominium loan.
Starting out the day's testimony was an emergency room physician, Dr. Kyle Knott, who said that one day in the summer of 2012, he was sitting on the back porch of his home at Chenal Woods Condominiums, which gave him a clear view of the front door of Hutchinson's condominium, and saw McGee going in after Hutchinson had left for work.
Knott said he knew the couple had broken up, so he called Hutchinson, a friend, who promised to return home immediately and asked him not to call the police.
The men testified that they went to confront McGee and saw her and a man they didn't recognize loading items from the apartment into a Jeep. A small canoe or a kayak had already been loaded into the vehicle, Knott said. He said Hutchinson and McGee argued about who owned the items, and then she drove off.
When the men then went into the condominium, Knott testified, "There was a lot of stuff that had been knocked over and broken, and she had written expletives on the wall in permanent marker."
Days or weeks later, Knott said, Hutchinson mentioned that McGee had made off with several items, including his clothes and a computer.
Hutchinson said the laptop was password-protected, and he acknowledged that while he and McGee lived together, she occasionally had the password. But he insisted the laptop was his and that she was only authorized to use it while he was present.
He said McGee "called me one day and demanded that I keep paying my rent," where she lived after he had moved out. He said she told him: "If you don't, I'm at the FBI. I'm going to give them your computer."
Hutchinson said that later, on Sept. 4, 2012, he had a physical confrontation with McGee outside the condo, in which she hit him with a preserved alligator head that he used as decor, prompting him to make a police report.
He said an FBI agent, Mike Lowe, later contacted him, indicating he was seeking help with an investigation of attorney John Goodson, for whom Hutchinson was on retainer to assist in class-action cases.
Hutchinson testified that Lowe asked him, "Did John Goodson hire you to kill tort reform?" and, "Is it possible John Goodson bribed you, and you are just not aware of it?"
He said he denied the questions, and Lowe became frustrated when Hutchinson didn't have any bad information to reveal about Goodson, who was paying him $20,000 a month. He said he then, to save his own skin, offered to give the FBI incriminating information on a client, lobbyist Rusty Cranford, who later pleaded guilty to paying bribes to Hutchinson, though Hutchinson's attorney has called the allegation unfounded.
Baker also heard Monday from Stephanie Hutchinson, who testified that she had filed his campaign reports from 1999 to 2007, which "was very difficult, because Jeremy doesn't keep records of everything, and I felt the weight of that responsibility."
She said they lived "paycheck to paycheck" and that he would often instruct her to write checks from his campaign account to cover household bills. Eventually, she said, she realized that he reported having more money in the account than reports from the bank indicated.
Stephanie Hutchinson testified that after their divorce, she told him she knew about the lies on the campaign reports and threatened to report them, to which he replied: "Go ahead. Do it. If I go to prison, you're going to lose the house."
She said they filed for divorce using their middle names, to avoid publicity, and he was ordered to pay her $10,500 a month in child support, to be converted to about $9,000 a month in alimony after her youngest child starts high school in 2023.
A Section on 06/11/2019
Print Headline: Former Arkansas senator's hearing in fraud case opens