A former Southeast Arkansas lawmaker pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to accept bribes, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release
Henry (Hank) Wilkins, IV, a former state senator and state representative from Southeast Arkansas, pleaded guilty to conspiring to accept more than $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing state legislation and transactions, including steering approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement (GIF) funds to his co-conspirators, and to devising a scheme to conceal the bribe payments as donations to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff where Wilkins also served as a pastor, according to the news release.
A related story, identifying “Person 1”, “Senator A” and “Senator B” referred to in the federal information, appears on Arkansas Times.
Wilkins, 64, of Pine Bluff served as the District 17 state representative from 1999 to 2001 and again from 2011 to 2015. He was also the District 5 state senator from 2001 to 2011. Wilkins said the bribery occurred from 2010 to 2014, according to the news release.
Wilkins pleaded guilty Monday before Chief U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.
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 full 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.
“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 Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“Public corruption destroys the trust that is necessary for our republic,” said U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland for the Eastern District of Arkansas. “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.”
The FBI along with the Eastern and Western districts of Arkansas, the Western District of Missouri and the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice investigated the case.
Wilkins also served as Jefferson County judge from January 2017 until his resignation in March 2018.