James Hesterly, a former Ouachita County judge, pleaded guilty in El Dorado today to one count of bribery for rigging bidding on a federal disaster relief cleanup project in return for a 2010 campaign contribution.

Hesterly, 50, of Camden, was indicted along with Harry Clemons Jr., 39, of Bearden, owner of a construction company, in January 2013. 

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The U.S. attorney’s office said in a news release:
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According to documents filed in court, beginning in March 2010, Hesterly proposed awarding Clemons a FEMA funded contract clean up storm debris in Ouachita County without competitive bidding in exchange for a payment to Hesterly for his reelection campaign. The debris was the product of two tornados that struck the county in October of 2009. In furtherance of this conspiracy, Clemons arranged for two other bidders to submit intentionally inflated bids to Hesterly through fax. Clemons then met with Hesterly at his office and submitted a bid on behalf of himself and another company for the contract in the amount of $120,730, a total amount below the inflated bids. Hesterly accepted Clemons’s bid, and, on April 8, 2010, applied for federal funds from FEMA to help Ouachita County pay for the contract. Hesterly represented to FEMA that Clemons was the lowest bidder among the three bids that he had received. After FEMA approved and obligated the request, Hesterly requested that the contract price be increased by $4,000 representing that the increase was necessary to cover increased costs to Clemons for disposing of the debri. FEMA also approved that request, but the $4,000 was ultimately paid to Hesterly by Clemons as bribe money solicited by Hesterly for awarding the contract to Clemons. 

Federal regulations required advertising for bids for 10 days and sealed bids. The job was advertised for one day and no sealed bids were submitted.

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Hesterly will be sentenced later. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, but is unlikely to be that in this case. Clemons pleaded guilty in March and is awaiting sentencing.