UPDATE: Special prosecutor sought in senator's ethics case


LITTLE ROCK — The Craighead County prosecutor Monday requested a special prosecutor be assigned to review the case of state Sen. Paul Bookout, the Jonesboro Democrat fined and reprimanded by the state Ethics Commission for campaign finance violations.

Prosecutor Scott Ellington of Jonesboro said he had looked at the commission’s findings and asked the state prosecutor coordinator to name a special prosecutor to further review the matter and determine whether a criminal investigation should be conducted.

“I suspect the special prosecutor will call for a state police investigation but will leave that to his or her discretion,” Ellington said in a statement.

Also Monday, the head of the Jonesboro hospital where Bookout worked as administrative director announced that the senator has left the job, just days after the state Ethics Commission concluded that the veteran state senator converted thousands of dollars from his 2012 political campaign to personal use.

In an email, Bookout confirmed he resigned Monday from St. Bernards Hospital.

“I made the decision I felt was best for the hospital and for myself at this time,” he said, adding that he had “no further updates at this time on my intentions” about his seat in the Legislature.

After the Ethics Commission released its findings and sanctions Friday, Bookout said he accepted them, would not appeal and looked forward to serving the remainder of his legislative term.

The panel concluded after a hearing that the veteran state senator converted thousands of dollars of campaign funds to personal use. Bookout was fined $8,000 for violating four state statutes — $2,000, the maximum possible fine, for each violation — and issued a letter of reprimand.

The panel found that Bookout had used contributions to his 2012 re-election campaign for improper purposes, including but not limited to:

—Depositing $18,200 into his personal bank account.

—Transferring $6,761.47 from the campaign to Bookout in the form of cash withdrawals.

—Spending $5,043.74 on women’s clothing and accessories at Steamroller Blues, a Jonesboro clothing store.

—Spending $8,4o2 on home theater equipment and installation from Sound Concepts in Jonesboro.

—Spending $1,306 on merchandise at the pro shop at RidgePointe County Club in Jonesboro.

The commission found that Bookout had violated state laws by taking campaign contributions as personal income, failing to maintain sufficient records of campaign expenditures, failing to itemize all expenditures over $100 on his campaign finance reports and failing to report the correct total of all his non-itemized expenditure reports.

The panel ordered Bookout to file amended versions of his campaign finance reports and include itemization of all expenditures over $100 that he made with campaign funds. The new reports should itemize 97 expenditures totaling $10,658, the commission said.

The expenditures were from contributions to Bookout’s 2012 re-election campaign, in which he was unopposed.

The vote to sanction Bookout was 5-0. As of Friday afternoon, the commission had not referred the case to a prosecutor.

Ellington said Monday he was recusing from formally reviewing the case because he had personal and professional conflicts. He said Bookout and his family attend Ellington’s church and that three of his deputy prosecutors are members of the same law firm as one of Sen. Bookout’s attorneys.