Former Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, who pleaded guilty on April 30 to conspiring to accept more than $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas state legislation and transactions during his time in the Arkansas Legislature, is set to be sentenced on Aug. 29 in a Little Rock Federal Court.
A clerk for Chief United States District Judge Brian Stacy Miller said the hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m.
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.
Wilkins also pleaded guilty to devising a scheme to conceal the bribe payments as donations to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, where he served as a pastor.
According to the court, Wilkins steered approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement funds to his co-conspirators, one of whom was Milton Russell Cranford, aka “Rusty” of Rogers, Arkansas, who pleaded guilty in June before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to one count of federal program bribery.
Cranford was an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities Inc.), a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Springfield, and oversaw the charity’s operations and lobbying efforts in the state of Arkansas.
Cranford also operated three lobbying firms: The Cranford Coalition, The Capital Hill Coalition and Outcomes of Arkansas.
By pleading guilty, Cranford admitted that he and other Preferred Family Healthcare executives paid bribes to Arkansas State Senator Jonathan Woods, Arkansas State legislator Wilkins, who is identified in court documents as “Arkansas Senator A,” and others, to provide favorable legislative action for Cranford, his clients, and Preferred Family Healthcare.
In exchange for the bribes paid by Cranford, the officials identified in the Information steered Arkansas General Improvement Fund (GIF) money to Preferred Family Healthcare and other Cranford clients; held up agency budgets; requested legislative audits; and sponsored, filed and voted for legislative bills that favored the charity and Cranford clients.
“During the Feb. 22 interview with the FBI, Wilkins admitted and acknowledged that he received funds totaling approximately $100,000 from and involving Cranford, which were at the time characterized as donations to Wilkins’ church, but which Wilkins now admits were bribes for him to perform specific official acts directed by Cranford,” The U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
“Wilkins further told agents and attorneys for the United States that sometime after it became known there was a federal investigation ongoing, Cranford met personally with Wilkins. During that meeting, Cranford told Wilkins he would continue paying Wilkins’ church even though Wilkins had left the legislature.
“By doing this, Cranford stated, it would look like he (Cranford) had not been paying bribes to Wilkins. In addition, Cranford instructed Wilkins to display a plaque on the church’s wall to show how Cranford had donated money for a bookshelf for the church. This meeting occurred toward the end of 2014, just before Wilkins left the legislature. During a subsequent meeting between Cranford and Wilkins at Cranford’s office, Cranford told Wilkins how he knows he is a member of the church.
“This was stated to remind Wilkins of Cranford’s talking points if Wilkins was questioned about it in the future. At another point, after the Arkansas trial of Ted Suhl, who went to jail for a bribery scheme involving donations to a church, Cranford told Wilkins he was going to make sure they didn’t get caught... .”