LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A former Arkansas lawmaker pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges he conspired to bribe an ex-judge who admitted lowering a jury's award in a negligence lawsuit in exchange for campaign contributions.
A federal judge on Thursday set a Feb. 25 trial date for former Sen. Gilbert Baker, who is charged with conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud in the alleged scheme. Baker was allowed to remain free while awaiting his trial but was ordered to undergo in-patient substance abuse counseling and to be subject to random drug and alcohol screenings.
Baker pleaded guilty in 2016 to driving while intoxicated and refusing to take a breath test, and had tested positive for methamphetamine following his arrest.
Baker is accused of conspiring with former state Judge Michael Maggio, who admitted to accepting campaign donations from a nursing home operator, then reducing a judgment against that company by $4.2 million.
Baker on Thursday said he and Maggio discussed the jury award before it was lowered, but denied it was in relation to any campaign contributions. Baker was no longer in the Senate at the time of the alleged scheme.
"It never crossed my mind to influence a decision, I was never asked to influence a decision. No one ever indicated in any way they were being influenced by any of my fundraising activities," Baker told reporters after his arraignment.
Baker is a former chairman of the state Republican party who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010.
Prosecutors allege Baker conspired with Maggio to direct the owner's contributions to the judge. The contributions were funneled to Maggio through eight political action committees that Baker had an attorney set up. Maggio accepted the contributions during a bid for the state Court of Appeals that he abandoned three months before the election.
Baker is in the latest in ongoing federal corruption cases that have involved Arkansas lawmakers and lobbyists. Legislative leaders have said restoring the public's trust following the probes is a priority and are working on a package of ethics reforms to introduce during this year's session.
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