The latest effort to combat public corruption in Arkansas is coming from the state’s top law enforcement official.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Wednesday her office is forming a Public Integrity Division under the existing Special Investigations Department to investigate claims of corruption against public officials.
Rutledge noted the division’s creation is not intended as a direct response to a slew of convictions of former legislators and lobbyists for misdirecting or misusing state general improvement money.
“This is not directed… in response to elected officials being found guilty in corruption trials or pleading guilty. This is in response to, sadly, what we’ve seen over decades,” Rutledge said. “Ideally we won’t have corruption, but unfortunately we do.”
The Arkansas Senate recently announced its own rule changes to combat corruption, including new mandatory training and the formation of a five-member committee to address concerns.
The move came after numerous former state legislators, including senators Jon Woods and Jake Files, were either convicted or pled guilty to misdirecting or misusing state general improvement money. The incoming speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado), has said he would consider adopting similar rules.
When asked how the division would handle possible claims against the Attorney General’s office itself, Rutledge said she has faith in her investigators’ ability to be impartial.
“I expect the Public Integrity Division to handle it, whether it’s a complaint against me or a complaint against an AG employee, to investigate it… just the same as they would with regard to any complaint that they receive,” Rutledge said.
Rutledge’s office will also partner with an existing task force alongside the Arkansas State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Diane Upchurch, special agent in charge for the FBI Little Rock Division, said the bureau will approach cases of public corruption like any other investigation.
“One thing that we’ve learned is working with our partners at the federal, state and local levels has greatly improved our operations and investigations on these matters,” Upchurch said. “And this is no different from any other case.”
According to Rutledge, the Public Integrity Division would have a web presence where Arkansans could alert the division to potential unethical conduct by public employees. Rutledge said her office will fill two vacant investigator positions to help staff the division.