Arkansas lawmaker pleads no contest to not filing taxes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas lawmaker pleaded no contest Monday to not paying state income taxes and agreed to pay thousands of dollars back to the state, but his lawyer said the legislator had no plans to step down from his statehouse seat.
State Rep. Mickey Gates of Hot Springs entered the plea in Garland County Court and was sentenced to six years’ probation under an agreement with prosecutors. Gates, a Republican, was arrested last year and charged with not filing state tax returns from 2012 through 2017.
Gates’ attorney said he entered the plea to one charge of not filing or paying income taxes for the year 2012 under a state law for first-time offenders that will allow the judge to dismiss the case against the legislator if he fulfills his probation and other obligations under his plea deal. Under that law, Gates will not have a felony conviction on his record.
“He decided it would be the best for him and his family to do this,” attorney Jeff Rosenzweig said.
Rosenzweig said Gates has no plans to resign from the House. Democrats and top Republicans, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, called for Gates to step down following the charges. He was re-elected to a two-year term in November. Gates did not immediately respond to a phone message or emails late Monday afternoon.
Gates agreed to pay at least $74,789 in taxes, penalties and interest for the years 2012 through 2014 and a hearing to determine the remaining amount for 2015 through 2017 will be held in December. He agreed to file his taxes for 2015 through 2017 by August 28. Authorities last year said he owed Arkansas nearly $260,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest and had not filed a return for 15 years. The statute of limitations for failing to file or pay state tax returns is six years.
Hutchinson called the case “regretful” and renewed his call for Gates to resign.
“It’s regretful any time a public servant is found to have failed to comply with our tax law,” he said in a statement issued Monday. “I have known Mickey for more than 20 years, and I know how tough this is for him personally and his family. But, I reiterate what I said at the time he was charged that he should resign from his seat in public office.”
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Matthew Shepherd said he was reviewing the plea agreement and would not have an immediate comment. Shepherd, a Republican, had not publicly called for Gates’ resignation following last year’s arrest. Gates was suspended from leadership positions and select committee assignments after he was arrested.
State Democrats repeated their call for Gates to step down following the plea agreement.
“Mickey Gates didn’t pay his taxes for years. When he got caught, he got a sweetheart deal,” State Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray said in a statement. “Everyone deserves a second chance, but Gates should do the right thing and step down from the Legislature, admitting his behavior is beneath the office.”
Gates’ plea follows a string of corruption probes that have ensnared lawmakers at the federal level since early 2017.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo