AG special unit files theft charges on former Horseshoe Bend official

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A former Horseshoe Bend City Council member and superintendent of the Horseshoe Bend Municipal Recreation Improvement District was arrested last week following an investigation by the Public Integrity Unit in the Arkansas Attorney General's office into the theft of more than $30,000 in MRID funds.

Josh Jackson, 39, was arrested last Monday when he surrendered to the Izard County sheriff's office after he was charged in Izard County Circuit Court with theft of property, forgery and fraudulent use of a credit card. Jackson was released that same day after posting a $5,000 bond.

Jackson is accused of forging checks and issuing cash advances to himself on a credit card belonging to the MRID, which oversees the Horseshoe Bend public golf course and recreation area. According to a press news release from Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, the allegations against Jackson are related to his employment with MRID and not to his position as a City Council member.

"Public officials are obligated to act in the public interest, not to enrich themselves or subsidize their lifestyles," Griffin said in the release. "I am grateful to Special Agent Steve Moore of our Public Integrity Unit for his work leading to the arrest of Jackson. My office will continue to pursue investigations like these to maintain the trust of Arkansans in those who serve the public."

The Public Integrity Unit was formed in 2018 by former Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to investigate corruption by elected state and local officials and public employees as part of the office's Special Investigations Division. Special agents of the Public Integrity Unit work with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Arkansas State Police as part of the ArkTrust public corruption task force, as well as local prosecutors to prosecute those accused of violating the public trust statewide.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed in Izard County Circuit Court, Jackson came to the attention of investigators in May of 2022 after a citizen in Horseshoe Bend reported seeing social media posts regarding allegations of improper expenditures made by an employee of the MRID suggesting that Jackson was misusing the MRID credit card. Local law enforcement officials advised the citizen to report the allegations to the attorney general's office because Jackson was an elected official at the time.

The affidavit said the matter was investigated by then-Special Agent Rick Newton with the Public Integrity Unit, who subpoenaed MRID bank and credit card records, discovering $1,933 in cash advances made on the MRID credit card in 2018, 2019 and 2020 as well as a number of small charges made on weekends at locations that were inconsistent with MRID business. The affidavit said that Jackson was the only person with access to the credit card.

Bank records, according to the affidavit, indicated that there were multiple checking accounts for the MRID and that all checks had to be signed by two of three MRID commissioners. Newton discovered 16 checks totaling $30,112 written between 2018 and 2021 that were made payable to Jackson or to his business -- Turkey Mountain Essentials -- some of which had notations for "payroll" or "pay advance," the affidavit said.

In videotaped interviews with Newton, the affidavit said, all three commissioners denied signing the checks and said Jackson did not have permission to sign their names to the checks or to write checks payable to himself. Newton also determined through the interviews that numerous other checks had been written to individuals and businesses that had commission members' signatures forged on them, for a total of 87 checks, the affidavit said.

On Sept. 16, 2022, the affidavit said, Newton interviewed Jackson, who told him he had worked for the MRID since 2011 and that he ran his business -- Turkey Mountain Essentials -- on MRID property. Jackson told Newton he was given the MRID credit card to use for anything needed for the golf course or the MRID, and that checking account for golf course improvement was intended for golf course repairs, cart paths and other related needs. The affidavit said that Jackson admitted to occasionally using the credit card for personal use but claimed whenever he did, the money was repaid through his business.

According to the affidavit, Jackson admitted to forging the 16 checks written to himself or his business and claimed that the MRID was supposed to give him a raise but never did, and that on one pay period his paycheck was not credited to his account on time. He acknowledged that the $30,112 in checks made out to himself or his business, the affidavit said, were from MRID assessment fees paid by Horseshoe Bend citizens. According to the affidavit, as MRID superintendent, Jackson was paid an annual salary of $55,000.

Last March, following Newton's retirement in January, Moore was assigned to complete the investigation. Jackson is being prosecuted by Drew Edward Smith with the 16th Judicial District.

As of Sunday night there was no record of an attorney representing Jackson in the matter.