LITTLE ROCK — Checks totaling thousands of dollars written on state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson’s 2010 campaign were deposited into his then-girlfriend’s personal bank account shortly after the election, documents obtained by the Arkansas News Bureau show.
A $1,500 check and a $1,200 check, both drawn on Hutchinson’s campaign account, were deposited into Julie McGee’s account on Nov. 19, 2010, and Dec. 11, 2010, respectively, bank records show.
Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, told the Arkansas News Bureau the checks are forgeries. McGee said Hutchinson was paying her living expenses at the time and gave her campaign funds to keep his wife from discovering their affair.
The two were involved in a highly publicized altercation on Sept. 4, a fight in which McGee allegedly struck the first-term senator in the head with a small preserved alligator head. She has been charged with third-degree domestic battery, a misdemeanor, in the incident.
Hutchinson, a lawyer, said his relationship with McGee began in mid-2010, while he was campaigning for the Senate and while he was married. He and his wife divorced in mid-2011, and he and McGee broke up in the summer of this year, he said.
When shown photocopies of the checks on Friday, Hutchinson said, “That signature is not my signature.”
Later Friday, Hutchinson said he had spoken with Graham Sloan, executive director of the Arkansas Ethics Commission, about the checks. Hutchinson said he planned to reimburse his campaign the $2,700 and file an ethics complaint against himself for filing an inaccurate report, on Sloan’s advice. He said he may also pursue criminal charges against McGee.
Hutchinson said McGee did some work for his campaign, some of it as a volunteer and some for pay, but he said he never paid her more than a few hundred dollars. He said there would have been no reason to give her campaign money after the election.
“If I was going to pay her, why wouldn’t I do it during the election when there’s work being done?” he said.
Hutchinson also claimed McGee has a history of forging checks belonging to him. He said he never filed a police report because he did not want publicity about the affair.
Summar Raleigh, McGee’s sister, told the Arkansas News Bureau that in late 2010 she saw McGee forge Hutchinson’s name on two checks, though she could not be sure they were campaign checks.
“She has some issues she needs to work out psychologically,” Raleigh said.
McGee said Hutchinson gave her the money to live on because she was unemployed, aside from a job on his campaign staff that she said was a sham.
McGee said her sister hates her and is “on his side.”
“The last time I saw her I beat her up really bad,” she said.
McGee also said Hutchinson routinely gave her blank checks from his campaign account and let her use them for personal purposes.
“He was out of town all the time with his wife and kids, and sometimes I would need something and he wouldn’t be there, or even if he was in town he couldn’t just run over there and give me money for a dinner that night or whatever, because I didn’t have a job. So I just had blank checks I could use as I needed them,” she said.
McGee produced one of the blank checks, which appeared to bear Hutchinson’s signature.
McGee’s name does not appear as a paid worker on any of Hutchinson’s campaign finance reports from 2010. Hutchinson said that was because they were having an affair and he wanted to keep her name out of official documents.
Hutchinson said he paid McGee for her campaign work in cash. He said she did small jobs for the campaign, such as buying supplies.
“I tried to give her stuff to do that she wouldn’t be in with the rest of us, for obvious reasons,” he said.
Hutchinson said he never wrote any campaign checks to McGee that were not for legitimate, campaign-related purchases. When shown a photo of the blank campaign check in McGee’s possession, Hutchinson confirmed that the signature was authentic and said he sometimes gave McGee blank checks to use to buy supplies.
“She always came back with the stuff,” he said, adding that he was surprised she would still have an unused check with his signature.
For a time, McGee also had the use of a campaign debit card, Hutchinson said.
Arkansas Code 7-6-203(g)(1) prohibits a candidate from taking campaign funds as personal income. Arkansas Code 7-6-203(g)(4)(A) states that “a candidate who uses campaign funds to fulfill any commitment, obligation or expense that would exist regardless of the candidate’s campaign shall be deemed to have taken campaign funds as personal income.”
McGee insisted that her employment by Hutchinson’s campaign was a “cover.” She said Hutchinson invented a title for her and coached her to say it if anyone asked what she did for the campaign, but she said she actually did no work.
“You won’t find a single (campaign) worker that knows me,” she said.
She also said Hutchinson gave her instructions on how to dress and helped her to improve her grammar.
“I know how to use ‘seen’ and ‘saw’ now,” she said.
Hutchinson said he did give McGee guidance on clothing and speech, but he said her job was not a cover. He said other campaign workers would remember her doing work for the campaign.
Former Hutchinson campaign worker George Benham told the Arkansas News Bureau he had never heard of McGee. But another former campaign worker, Rick Myers, said he did remember her.
Myers said staff members first met McGee while she was a server at Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta in Bryant.
“She befriended the group that would eat there often, and over time she volunteered her services to put up yard signs and do some canvassing and stuff like that for him over the Bauxite-Benton area, and she actually helped on weekends occasionally,” Myers said. “We had a little office in Benton. … She would sit there and if people came by she would give them signs and stuff.”
A no-contact order was issued against McGee after the fight with Hutchinson in September, but she and Hutchinson both admitted they have had contact since then.
Hutchinson said the two usually do not get along, “but then she is sweet and apologizes and is so hurt and does this routine that makes me feel sorry, and I remember a girl I did fall in love with and I have feelings for her, like an idiot, and I respond.”
McGee said she just wants Hutchinson to “leave me alone,” but a few minutes later she sent him a text message.
Hutchinson, who has no opponent for re-election to a second term in Tuesday’s election, said he is sorry for ruining his marriage.
“I … cheated on my wife, who is a godly woman and didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I’ve hurt my family, and I’ve been dealing with the consequences of that for a long time now. … All I can say is that I am eternally sorry to my ex-wife and to my kids and to the voters and anybody else who I let down, and that I’m trying to move beyond it and extricate myself from the situation and be the best dad and servant I can be.”
Reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.