Financial inducements arranged by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to establish a Mexican consular office in Little Rock may have violated state law, according to an Arkansas attorney.
As WND reported yesterday, critics in Arkansas charge Huckabee, who lately has enjoyed a surge in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, worked with some of the state’s most prominent and politically powerful businesses to establish the consulate as a magnet for drawing illegal immigrants to the state to accept low-paying jobs.
Huckabee, in an interview with WND, strongly denied the allegations.
Arkansas attorney Chip Sexton provided WND a written legal brief arguing the state government’s sublease to Mexico of office space for the consulate was illegal under Arkansas law. Sexton contended the deal raised questions about the appropriateness of private citizens and corporations in Arkansas providing financial incentives for the government of Mexico to locate a consulate office in Little Rock.
“This arrangement to bring a Mexican consulate to Little Rock and the manner in which it occurred amounts to a ‘consul-gate,'” Sexton told WND. “I’m an Arkansas citizen, why doesn’t the state lease me some property and furniture for $1 per year?”
Robert Trevino, commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, told WND he and Huckabee helped arrange state and private financial support to induce Mexico to establish the consulate as a business development “quid pro quo.”
Trevino signed on July 7, 2006, a “Facilities Use Agreement” with Mexican consular officials to rent state government office space for $1 a year on the second floor of the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services building at 26 Corporate Hills in Little Rock.
Sexton points to Arkansas law, which appears to prohibit state agencies, including Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, from sub-leasing government space.
Ark. Code Ann. ? 22-2-114(C)(i) provides: “After July 1, 1975, no state agency shall enter into or renew or otherwise negotiate a lease between itself as lessor or lessee and a nongovernmental or other government lessor or lessee.”
“Even more offensive, there was nothing in the lease or other agreements that would have prevented the Mexican consulate from providing legal assistance to illegal aliens,” Sexton told WND. “We have information that the Mexican consulate operating out of the Arkansas Rehabilitation Facility was providing legal assistance even to Mexican illegal aliens who were accused of committing violent crimes in Arkansas.”
Sexton said he and other critics have “called on the Arkansas attorney general’s office to set the lease aside and recover the value of the lease.”
A memo Trevino wrote July 21, 2006, indicating the mortgage for the land to build a new, permanent Mexican consulate in Little Rock was arranged by Arkansas commercial real estate developer Bob Burrow and that the $7,500 mortgage would be paid by Arkansas corporations to support the Mexican consular presence for three years.
WND also has also obtained copies of invoices from Arkansas construction contractor Baldwin & Shell charging $60,000 for building the new consulate at 3500 South University Park in Little Rock.
A copy of a check from the city of Little Rock, dated June 1, indicates contractor Baldwin & Shell was paid $60,000 as requested.
Trevino, in the WND interview, did not dispute the documentary record, but he argued the state government and the sponsoring Arkansas businesses did expect to receive financial returns, in the form of expanded exports to Mexico.
“I executed that lease agreement as part of the former governor’s agreement to provide certain assistance to Mexican officials once they located to Little Rock, because their offices wouldn’t be ready for some time,” Trevino said.
Trevino explained that the counsel general of Mexico, Carlos Garcia de Alba, on behalf of the Mexican government, had asked for Huckabee’s consideration.
“So, the sublease agreement was in fulfillment of Governor Huckabee’s agreement to assist them as they moved to Little Rock,” he said.
Trevino further explained the written sublease agreement came only on the insistence of the Arkansas Building Authority.
“The request from the Mexicans was strictly to allow their officials to use their computers, to have a seat and a chair, to be able to plug their computers in to do business,” Trevino said. “It wasn’t ever envisioned to be a long-term agreement. It was just a temporary opportunity for them.”
Trevino said Mexican officials estimated their permanent office would be available within a few months.
“We had some office space that we weren’t using but the state was paying for anyhow,” he explained. “We would not be able to use that office space, because the furniture which was adapted for people with disabilities and our staff wouldn’t be available until November.”
Trevino said Arkansas officials felt, therefore, “it was cost-effective for us to kill two birds with one stone.”
“It was a quid pro quo in that the Mexican government was already helping Arkansas businesses to compete selling their products in Mexico,” he said. “We had already realized some benefit, so it was basically a good natured gesture – an expression of a mutual working relationship with regard to promoting Arkansas products in Mexico.”
The State Building Authority, which regulates the buildings, he said, then recommended Arkansas “put something in writing, because oftentimes for contingencies and liabilities we would be at least underscore that we were establishing them to allow to work from that office for a short period of time.”
Essentially, Trevino argued, “we were covering the state’s interest. We were making official an informal agreement.”
Trevino argued that the temporary space provided the Mexican consulate was not used to conduct official consular business.
“They weren’t even empowered to conduct official duties at that time,” he said. “They had only two staff members, including the current consul in Little Rock. They felt like because of the time frame was so abbreviated because of their need, they just needed someplace to put their computer, as I mentioned.”
Arkansas private investigator Michael Hardy disagreed, arguing in a July 25, 2006, investigative report, a copy of which has been provided to WND, that Arkansas receptionists were taking messages for the Mexican consulate at 26 Cooperate Hills.
“On July 25, 2006, I went to 26 Cooperate Hills,” Hardy told WND in telephone interview yesterday, “and Stephanie, the receptionist on duty when you first enter the building told me that the two Mexicans were not there that day, but she was instructed to take messages for them when they were not present.”
Hardy left a message for Consul Andres Chao, but never received a return call.
Trevino confirmed that Arkansas business leaders and corporations arranged the land purchase and paid the mortgage on the Mexican consulate’s new building.
“Mr. Burrow had developed not only a friendship but a business interest in Mexico,” Trevino told WND. “He had offered to the Mexican government to sponsor and facilitate their location to Arkansas, and that was an agreement made between Mr. Burrow and the Mexican government, which you’ll have to speak to them (about). That was beyond my authority and my official duties.”
WND placed a second phone call yesterday to Burrow’s Jonesboro office but received no return call.
“With regard to the other companies,” Trevino continued, “there were some companies that came to our attention that we conveyed over to the Mexican government, companies that had said they were interested in sponsoring the Mexican government.”
Trevino told WND he could not recall which Arkansas companies were involved in sponsoring the Mexican companies.
“A number of companies, particularly ones who do business internationally, were very excited about the prospect of a Mexican consulate establishing a presence in the state, which was for the reasons I stated earlier – for enhanced business development opportunities for Arkansas companies,” Trevino explained.
“If you have spent any time in Arkansas, you know people are very generous and hospitable here,” he continued. “So that was, from my perspective, that was their intent – to demonstrate to the people of Mexico who were in part their consumers, that they welcomed an opportunity to strengthen business opportunities between our state and their economy in Mexico.
“These companies had discussions with the Mexican government that they would sponsor the Mexican government to entice them, if you will,” he said. “I should point out that this was the last consulate appointed under the presidency of Vicente Fox, and the competition among states was very keen from what they said. Other states wanted Mexico to establish a Mexican consulate, as I mentioned, because a lot of trade opportunities come with these consulates.”
Trevino emphasized: “It never was our intent to get involved in the immigration issue or to aid illegal immigration, that’s a federal issue. Our interest and emphasis was and is strictly business development.”
He pointed to the many Arkansas companies, including Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods, that “do a good deal of business in Mexico,”
“So the more we can facilitate better trade with that country for our companies located here in Arkansas, we have a duty to do that as officials,” he said.
Arkansas attorney Sexton disagreed, insisting, “This whole scheme to get a Mexican consulate to locate in Little Rock appears to be nothing more than a veiled invitation for illegal immigrants to come to Arkansas to work for the Arkansas corporations who want cheap labor.”
“The package is enhanced by social welfare benefits provided by the state of Arkansas and financing assistance to support the Mexican consulate’s presence in the state,” Sexton said.
Trevino confirmed he was state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, also known as LULAC, an activist group strongly advocating for rights of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S., when on Oct. 3, 2003, he accompanied Huckabee in a state airplane to visit Fox in Mexico.
In 2003, Trevino was Huckabee’s economic development policy adviser.
In October 2005, Trevino was appointed by Huckabee to his current position as commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services.
Sexton is a partner in McCutchen, Sexton, Strunks, a Fort Smith, Ark., law firm.
Sexton represented long-time activist Joe McCutchen in multiple Freedom of Information Act requests that produced the documents discussed in this story.
Joey McCutchen II, Sexton’s partner in the Fort Smith law firm, is the son of activist Joe McCutchen, who was quoted previously by WND.