LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected ex-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's (search) effort to withdraw a guilty plea in a tax case involving the sale of a cable television franchise, saying Tucker admitted hiding the true value of the sale to impede the IRS.
In a case that grew out of the Whitewater investigation, Tucker argued prosecutors had charged him under the wrong statute and that he should be entitled to withdraw his guilty plea.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis said a revision in federal law affected only how much Tucker owed in restitution -- not the underlying fact that Tucker admitted breaking the law in an effort to avoid income taxes.
Tucker and a business partner sold the Plantation Cable System in 1988 and, after Tucker's guilty plea in 1998, U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Reasoner ordered the ex-governor to pay $1 million in restitution.
Tucker appealed, saying the Internal Revenue Service would have used an updated version of its code to determine his tax liability, and after a hearing Reasoner reduced the amount to less than $63,000.
With the new restitution ruling, Tucker argued that the former version of the IRS code didn't apply in his case and that Whitewater prosecutors charged him under the wrong law. The appeals court disagreed.
"Tucker pleaded guilty to count 3 of the indictment, which charged the defendants with conspiring to impede the IRS in the collection of 'income taxes,"' the court wrote.
Tucker and his co-defendants entered their pleas after prosecutors said the three arranged a sham bankruptcy. Tucker acknowledged he withheld information from a U.S. Bankruptcy Court by failing to give it a copy of his contract to sell the business.
The restitution argument centered on which version of the IRS code should have applied. A version that expired in 1986 would have put the government loss at $3.5 million. Tucker's personal liability was cut drastically, to $125,429.88, under a 1987 revision, and the ex-governor reached an agreement with the government to pay half.
Justice Department lawyers acknowledged the newer version of the law should have been used to calculate Tucker's liability.
Tucker said the government's acknowledgment that the newer law should be used to calculate restitution also meant that Whitewater prosecutors, either deliberately or accidentally, misled grand jurors by using the old law when pursuing his indictment in 1995.
"They got an indictment on a nonexistent tax -- conspiracy to impede collection of a tax that didn't exist. They knew the law had been repealed," Tucker said.
Tax law changes on Jan. 1, 1987, adjusted how to calculate capital gains on the sales of a corporation's assets.
Separately, a jury convicted him in a 1996 fraud trial that led to his resignation as Arkansas governor six weeks later.
Reasoner in 1998 ordered that Tucker co-defendant William J. Marks pay $1 million in restitution after Marks stipulated that the partners would have owed at least $2 million dollars had they not defrauded the government. Marks' restitution order was not changed.
The third man in the conspiracy, Tucker's personal lawyer John Haley, paid $40,000 in restitution. He died in a 2003 plane crash.