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Searcy man convicted of sex trafficking of child


LITTLE ROCK — A federal jury found a Searcy 56-yearold guilty of sex trafficking of a child Wednesday in Little Rock.

The trial of Muhammad Arif lasted two days. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on Feb. 4, 2020. The jury returned their verdict after deliberating for approximately two hours. U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. presided over the trial and will sentence Arif at a later date.

On Aug. 9, 2019, the Judsonia Police Department received information alleging inappropriate sexual misconduct involving a 15-year-old female minor. The juvenile was interviewed at the Child Safety Center of White County and disclosed that around the end of May 2019 she accompanied her dad and his boss, Arif, to a business in Searcy.

While there, Arif told one of his employees to drive the juvenile’s dad to a different job site in Bradford. According to the juvenile, because she

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needed a ride home, Arif volunteered to drive her from Searcy to Judsonia.

Once they were alone in the vehicle, the minor said, Arif told her he would give her $100 in exchange for oral sex. The juvenile said she was afraid no one would believe her, so she started recording their conversation using her cell phone. On the recording, Arif “is heard asking the minor to promise not to tell anyone,” and he gave her $20. Arif was interviewed by police Sept. 21, 2019, He acknowledged giving the juvenile a ride to Judsonia, that they were the only ones in the vehicle and that it was his first time meeting her. He also acknowledged knowing she was a minor. The recordings were played for Arif and he confirmed that he was the person on the recordings and said “he was embarrassed and began to express his concerns that people he was close to would find out about the recordings.”

The minimum sentence Arif could receive is 10 years to life in federal prison, and no less than five years of supervised release.


Completion of audit of governor’s lectern pushed back

LITTLE ROCK — A report detailing the audit of a $19,000 lectern purchased for Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be completed later than expected after the governor’s office said it needed more time for its response, the state’s legislative auditor told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Legislative Auditor Roger Norman told a legislative committee in an email that a draft report has been completed of the audit requested last year of the lectern – which last fall gained national attention and became the focus of intense scrutiny – would be completed in early April, rather than the end of the month.

Norman said the governor’s office requested an extension for its “management response,” which is included in reports issued by the Division of Legislative Audit, and that response is due today. Legislative Audit conducts more than 1,000 reviews of state agencies, school districts and local governments every year. The 3 1/4-foot-tall blue and wood paneled lectern was bought in June with a state credit card for $19,029.25 from an events company in Virginia. The Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for the purchase on Sept. 14, and Sanders’ office has called the use of the state credit card an accounting error. Sanders’ office said it received the lectern in August. Sanders, a Republican who served as press secretary for former President Donald Trump, has dismissed questions about the lectern as a “manufactured controversy,” and the item has not been seen at her public events. Sanders’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

It’s not clear when and how the report will be released the public. The co-chairs of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee could order the report’s early release, or it could be released at a special meeting ordered by either co-chair or by a request from 10 members of the panel. Otherwise the report won’t be released until the committee’s next regularly scheduled meeting in June.


Entergy says bills going down this month

LITTLE ROCK — Entergy Arkansas’ low-cost power generation portfolio, along with lower gas prices last year, has allowed the company to decrease customer bills beginning with the April billing cycle, according to a recent press release.

An average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatthours (kWh) per month will see a decrease of $10.01 in their total bills – a 7.49 percent decrease. Commercial and industrial customers could see anywhere from a 1.6 percent to 17.7 percent decrease, depending on their customer usage profile.

“Although our rates are consistently lower than the regional and national average, we continue to keep affordability for our customers at the forefront of our decisions,” said Ventrell Thompson, vice president of customer service. “The total decrease customers see on their bills will vary based on their individual energy usage.”

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