Ouachita Co. judge charged in alleged storm scam

EL DORADO (KATV) - Ouachita County's judge for the past ten years was arraigned Friday morning on charges of conspiracy and bribery.

US Attorney Conner Eldridge said in a press release Thursday that 49-year-old James Michael Hesterly awarded a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster-relief contract to 39-year-old Harry Clemons, Jr., owner of Clemons Construction, in return for money towards his 2010 reelection campaign for Ouachita County Judge. Clemons allegedly arranged for two other bidders to submit intentionally inflated bids.

The money was available from the federal government because of damage from two tornados that struck the county in October 2009. Clemons was awarded the contract on March 26, 2010. Five months later, Clemons submitted documentation to Hesterly stating that all work on the contract had been complete and was given a check for $69,865.

Both men were charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud an agency of the United States and two counts of bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds. If convicted, they face a maximum of 25 years in prison.