FBI says it's investigating money donated through PACs to former Arkansas circuit judge

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CONWAY, Arkansas — The FBI confirmed it is looking into campaign donations made to a former circuit judge for his failed Arkansas Court of Appeals campaign.

The agency said it is investigating contributions that came from political action committees traced back to a nursing home owner who had a case pending in Michael Maggio's court. FBI spokeswoman Debra Green declined to comment because it's an ongoing investigation.

In an email Thursday, Maggio's attorney said that since she hasn't been contacted by the FBI, she doesn't want to speculate on the investigation. She said while she would like to say more, it's not possible.

Maggio left an Appeals Court race in early March amid contention about the nursing home case and unrelated comments he made online about a variety of topics, including women, sex, race and divorce. The Arkansas Supreme Court removed Maggio as circuit judge in September for the online statements.

Most of the political action committee contributions for Maggio's campaign were made by Fort Smith nursing home owner Michael Morton, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1vEM3Xl). Morton gave thousands of dollars to the PACs on July 8, 2013, three days before Maggio reduced a jury's $5.1 million judgment against one of Morton's 32 nursing homes to $1 million. Morton has said he's done nothing illegal.

Morton told state investigators he was first contacted about giving money to the PACs in May 2013, the same month Maggio reached a contract agreement with a political consultant for his forthcoming campaign.

Even if the events in May and July are coincidental, they are "exactly the sort of thing" FBI agents are likely to examine, said I.C. Smith, a former agent in charge of the FBI office in Little Rock. He retired in 1998.

"You're usually very suspicious of such coincidences," Smith said. "That doesn't necessarily mean there is a criminality. But on the other hand, if you're looking at it purely from an investigative point, particularly . on corruption matters, you look at it with a jaundiced eye, with skepticism."


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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