A former Republican state senator in Arkansas has just been indicted in federal court on bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud charges.
Gilbert Baker, the 62-year-old former senator turned lobbyist and political consultant, stands accused of managing a scheme to illegally funnel donations to the campaign of a circuit judge running for a seat on the state appeals court in exchange for a favorable verdict.
The judge, former Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, was convicted of bribery in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for his part in the scheme.
Maggio had admitted to substantially lowering the amount of damages awarded in a civil suit in exchange for indirect donations to his campaign. Baker is alleged to have solicited and managed the transfer of those contributions.
Campaign contributions for favorable ruling
According to the indictment, Judge Maggio was presiding over a civil lawsuit filed in 2013 against a nursing home — identified as Company A, owned by Individual A — by the estate of an individual who had been “neglected and mistreated” while in the nursing home’s custody. A jury ruled against the nursing home and awarded the estate $5.2 million in damages.
Lawyers for the nursing home filed a motion seeking a new trial and reduced damages, and though no new trial was granted, Judge Maggio reduced the awarded damages from $5.2 million to $1 million. Individual A appears to be the nursing home’s owner, Michael Morton, who has insisted he did nothing wrong.
The indictment laid out how Baker, in conjunction with Maggio, Morton and other unnamed individuals, conspired to get around strict state laws regulating fundraising for nonpartisan judicial campaigns by virtue of the creation of several political action committees through which campaign donations to Maggio were funneled to conceal their origins.
Conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud
The lengthy indictment further explained in detail how a series of checks of various amounts were written at various times and post-dated to appear as though they had been written within the window where campaign contributions were permitted.
The indictment also included several text messages and phone calls between the subjects of the conspiracy which indicated the purpose of the scheme.
At the heart of the scheme is the alleged agreement by Maggio to reduce the damages in the civil suit in exchange for a substantial donation to his campaign from Morton, and all other alleged crimes seemed to flow from that.
Claims of innocence
Baker professed his innocence in the matter, as evidenced by a statement provided to KATV from his attorneys, Bud Cummins and Richard Watts.
“Mr. Baker has consistently maintained, including several times under sworn oath, that at no time did he ask Judge Mike Maggio or Mr. Michael Morton or anybody else to do anything improper or illegal. He has also consistently maintained that at no time did anyone ask him to do anything improper or illegal. All campaign contributions in 2013 were handled lawfully and were transparently reported in public records. After over five years of investigation M. Baker is confident that the truth will finally be made know,” the lawyers said in the statement.
Morton stated his innocence in the matter as well, in a statement provided to KATV by spokesman Matt DeCample.
“Mr. Morton maintains that while he made campaign contributions to numerous candidates for the 2014 election, he never asked for anything in return from any candidate. He never discussed reducing a jury verdict in any case with anybody. Morton discussed this at length with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2014 and it remains the truth today,” DeCample said in the statement.
It remains to be seen what will come of this indictment over allegations of bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud, but it sure doesn’t look good for Baker or Morton, who could very well be soon on their way to join Maggio as convicted criminals.
Should they be found guilty of conspiring to violate state laws governing campaign finance for judicial campaigns, not to mention reducing jury-awarded damages in a civil suit in exchange for contributions, they deserve to serve time.