UNITED STATES NEWS

Prosecutor won’t file criminal charges over purchase of $19K lectern by Arkansas governor’s office

Jun 7, 2024, 3:17 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A prosecutor said Friday he will not file any criminal charges over the purchase of a $19,000 lectern by the office of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders that attracted nationwide scrutiny.

An audit had found the purchase potentially violated state laws on purchasing, state property and government records. But Pulaski County Prosecutor Will Jones said that after a “thorough review of the report and supporting documents,” his office determined “criminal charges are not warranted.”

There is “insufficient proof of criminal conduct,” Jones said in a letter Friday to auditor Roger Norman.

Norman said in an email he had no comment.

Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Jones’ review confirmed what the governor’s office had said all along.

“We followed the law, reimbursed the state with private funds, and this was nothing more than a ridiculous controversy manufactured by the far left,” Henning said in an email statement.

The lectern for Sanders, who served as press secretary for former President Donald Trump and has been widely viewed as a potential candidate to be his running mate, has drawn attention ranging from late night host Jimmy Kimmel to The New York Times.

The blue and wood-paneled lectern was bought last June with a state credit card for $19,029.25 from an events company in Virginia. The Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for the purchase on Sept. 14, and Sanders’ office has called the use of the state credit card an accounting error. Sanders’ office said it received the lectern in August.

Similar lectern models are listed online for $7,500 or less.

Arkansas lawmakers last year approved the request to review the purchase of the lectern. The subsequent audit said Sanders’ office potentially illegally tampered with public records when the words “to be reimbursed” were added to the original invoice for the lectern after the state GOP paid for it in September.

Jones said Friday the executive assistant who made that notation did not “knowingly ‘make a false entry in or falsely alter any public record,’ or erase, obliterate, remove, destroy, or conceal a public record.”

“Further, there is insufficient proof to show that the notation was added with the ‘purpose of impairing the verity, legibility, or availability of a public record,’ ” Jones said.

Sanders’ office and auditors disputed whether the governor and other constitutional officers are subject to the purchasing and property rules she was accused of violating. The audit said the governor’s office did not follow the steps laid out in state law for agencies to dispose of state property.

Jones said Arkansas law is not clear as to whether the provisions of the General Accounting and Budgetary Procedures Law apply to constitutional officers. He noted the differing interpretations of the law by auditors and the Arkansas Governor’s Office.

“Given the multiple interpretations of the GABPL and the ambiguity over whether it applies to the AGO, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute was knowingly violated,” the letter said.

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Prosecutor won’t file criminal charges over purchase of $19K lectern by Arkansas governor’s office