Michael Hesterly of Camden, the former Ouachita County judge, was sentenced today to 33 months in federal prison for taking a bribe (a $4,000 campaign contribution) to rig a contract using federal money for disaster cleanup.
In a news release, U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge recounts that Hesterly and Harry Clemons Jr. of Bearden schemed to have Clemons’ business get a disaster-relief contract in return for a contribution to Hesterly’s 2010 campaign for re-election.
Hesterly, 50, was county judge for 10 years. Clemons owned a construction company. Hesterly was indicted in January 2013 and pleaded guilty to the charge in June. The FBI thanked Jeff Davis, a resident of Ouachita County, for providing important evidence in the case. Clemons, who also pleaded guilty, received probation, a $2,500 fine and was ordered to make restitution of $4,000 jointly with Hesterly.
Said Eldridge’s release:
According to documents filed in court, beginning in March 2010, Hesterly proposed awarding Clemons a FEMA funded contract to 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.
In order to promote open competition, federal regulations require that the contract be awarded through a sealed bidding process and in compliance with all applicable state law. Hesterly corrupted the bidding process to ensure that the contract would be awarded to Clemons and not through a legitimate competitive bidding process. In August 2010, Clemons submitted documentation to Hesterly stating that all work on the contract had been complete and requested a payment of $69,865 for Clemons Construction. That same month, Hesterly certified to the state of Arkansas and FEMA that the work set forth in the contract had been completed. On October 13, 2010, Hesterly signed an order allowing Clemons’s claim for payment to go through. Later that month, Clemons received a check from Ouachita County for $69,865. Clemons then paid the $4,000 to Hesterly.