Former Arkansas state senator and representative pleads guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges in deal
Wilkins schemed to conceal fraudulent payoffs as donations
Eastern Arkansas District LITTLE ROCK—Former Arkansas State Senator and State Representative Henry (Hank) Wilkins IV pleaded guilty today to conspiring to accept over $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas state legislation and transactions, including steering approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement funds to his coconspirators. Wilkins also pleaded guilty to devising a scheme to conceal the bribe payments as donations to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where Wilkins also served as a pastor.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Cody Hiland, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch made the announcement following a hearing before Chief United States District Judge Brian S. Miller.
“By misusing his elected office to line his own pockets, Henry Wilkins undermined the integrity of our political process and abused the public’s trust,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “The Criminal Division is committed to rooting out such corruption and holding those responsible accountable for their actions.”
“Public corruption destroys the trust that is necessary for our republic,” Hiland said. “In this case, the citizens of Arkansas were betrayed by Mr. Wilkins, and elected officials who abuse their position for personal gain must be held accountable for that violation of the public trust.
Investigating and prosecuting individuals such as Mr. Wilkins is essential to restoring confidence in elected officials. This office will continue to relentlessly pursue anyone who tries to undermine our system of government.”
Wilkins, 64, of Pine Bluff, who represented Arkansas’s House District 17 as a state Representative from 1999 to 2001 and again from 2011 to 2015, and District 5 in the Arkansas Senate from 20012011, pleaded guilty before Judge Miller to aninformation charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, namely honest services fraud and bribery.
As part of his plea, Wilkins admitted that from 2010 to 2014, while serving in the Arkansas General Assembly, he accepted a series of bribes from lobbyists and non-profit organizations that were transmitted both in the form of cash and checks funneled from lobbying firms to a discretionary fund held in St.
James’ name where Wilkins had access to the deposited funds. In exchange for the cash and check bribes, Wilkins performed, and agreed to perform, official acts in his capacity as an Arkansas legislator including filing shell bills, sponsoring bills, voting in favor of specific legislation, and steering approximately $245,000 in General Improvement funds to entities that funneled bribes to Wilkins through his church.
“Wilkins took an oath to uphold the law and protect the citizens of Arkansas,” SAC Upchurch said. “Instead, Wilkins betrayed the community he swore to protect. We appreciate the commitment made by our partners, the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice and the United States Attorneys’ Offices for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Western District of Arkansas, and the Western District of Missouri.”
The charge of conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States carries a maximum penalty of not more than five years’ imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years supervised release. Judge Miller will sentence Wilkins at a later date.
The FBI investigated this case.
Trial Attorney Marco A. Palmieri of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S.
Attorneys Stephanie Mazzanti and Patrick C. Harris of the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Ben Wulff of the Western District of Arkansas are prosecuting the case. This is a combined investigation with the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western District of Arkansas, and the Western District of Missouri.
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office