Tucker Sentenced to 4 Years' Probation
By Michael Haddigan
Former Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker (D), convicted in May on Whitewater-related charges, received a four-year suspended sentence today following testimony by a transplant surgeon who said Tucker would likely die of liver disease if he were sent to prison.
U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. put Tucker, 53, on probation for four years and ordered him placed under home detention for the first 18 months of the sentence. The judge also ordered Tucker to pay $294,000 in restitution and interest to the U.S. Small Business Administration as well as a $25,000 fine, and to perform community service.
"The court is persuaded that Mr. Tucker has a variety, if not a multitude, of serious medical problems," said Howard, a Democrat appointed by President Jimmy Carter. "The court is convinced that a sanction requiring imprisonment would be as cruel as a grave."
In May, a jury found Tucker, James B. McDougal and McDougal's former wife, Susan, guilty of arranging nearly $3 million in fraudulent loans between 1985 and 1987 through Capital Management Services, a Little Rock small business development company run by former municipal judge David Hale.
The case was a victory for Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who put Hale on the stand to describe a series of fraudulent loans he claimed to have made to members of the state's Democratic "political family." Hale has said that then-Gov. Bill Clinton asked him on several occasions to help McDougal by making the loans, but President Clinton denied having such discussions in videotaped testimony during the trial.
Tucker's lawyers asked the court for mercy, citing Tucker's public service and failing health. He suffers from chronic liver disease and needs a liver transplant, doctors testified during the almost three-hour sentencing hearing.
James McDougal, who was Clinton's former partner in the Whitewater land venture, was to have been sentenced today also, but Howard delayed the sentencing for 90 days.
Howard's order delaying McDougal's sentencing appeared to confirm earlier reports that the former savings and loan operator was cooperating with Starr's wide-ranging investigation into the failed Whitewater development and other deals involving the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Tucker, who had made an emotional plea for leniency in a statement to the court, sat ashen-faced and silent as Howard imposed the sentence. His wife, Betty, and other relatives sobbed in the gallery. Tucker embraced tearful relatives and supporters after the court adjourned.
Asked outside the courthouse if he thought he had broken any laws, Tucker said firmly, "I do not." He said he was grateful the judge allowed him to continue his medical treatments and to serve the state. Howard ordered Tucker to deliver a series of speeches at student assemblies around Arkansas.
Prosecutor W. Ray Jahn argued during the hearing for a substantial fine and prison sentence, saying that Tucker's "unbridled political ambition" and "unbridled avarice" led him to break the law and that he has shown no remorse.
"It is interesting that Mr. Tucker was well enough to convince his constituents in 1994 that he was well enough to continue to serve," Jahn said.
Tucker, then the lieutenant governor, succeeded Clinton as governor in 1992 and was elected to a four-year term in 1994. He resigned as governor in July, following his conviction.
Starr told reporters after the hearing that Howard had broad discretion in imposing sentence because Tucker's case predates federal sentencing guidelines. "It's the responsibility of the judge, and I'm not going to criticize Judge Howard's sentence," he said.
Wallace Marsh, a Pittsburgh surgeon specializing in liver transplants, testified that Tucker's liver is failing. Without a transplant, he said, Tucker faces a 50 percent chance of dying within two years. The former governor is on a transplant waiting list. If imprisoned, the surgeon said, Tucker probably would not be chosen for the procedure because prison conditions would increase the chance of fatal infection after the transplant.
"If he's confined in that type of setting, the ultimate result will be death," Marsh said.
Susan McDougal is to be sentenced Tuesday. One of her attorneys, Bobby McDaniel, said today that she has no intention of cooperating with federal prosecutors in their investigations.
Throughout his three-month trial, the nattily dressed McDougal met almost daily with reporters and photographers outside the stately Little Rock courthouse to denounce Starr and other prosecutors as "Republican gangsters." He complained bitterly that prosecutors had targeted the three defendants to embarrass Clinton.
His cooperation with prosecutors could help revive the Whitewater investigations in Arkansas following a courtroom victory for two rural bankers in another case brought by Starr. Bankers Herby Branscum Jr. and Robert M. Hill were acquitted on charges of conspiracy, misapplying bank funds and making false entries to bank records. The Arkansas jury was unable to reach a decision on seven other counts.
Prosecutors charged Branscum, a longtime friend and supporter of Clinton's, and Hill with using bank funds to reimburse themselves and relatives for contributions to Clinton's campaigns. Prosecutors named presidential adviser Bruce R. Lindsey an unindicted co-conspirator in the case and convictions could have brought the investigation to the White House gates.
McDougal's cooperation, however, reshuffles the deck and could accomplish the same thing. He may offer prosecutors new details about the controversial Castle Grande development for which Hillary Clinton did some legal work while she was a partner at the Rose Law Firm here.
Susan McDougal still faces embezzlement charges in California on allegations she took more than $150,000 from Israel Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta while she worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for his wife.
Tucker still faces a three-count indictment on charges he put hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan money from Hale's company toward buying a cable television system, then conspired to evade taxes on millions in profits from the system's sale.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company