by Max Brantley
Somebody asks what I can contribute to the scoop by the Democrat-Gazette's Debra Hale Shelton that FBI agents are asking questions at the University of Central Arkansas. They would seem to be following threads presented in adverse state audit findings about financial dealings at the school during Lu Hardin's presidency. I have nothing concrete to add at this point.
The local prosecutor, who received the audit report, probably welcomes FBI assistance. As the article noted, it might lessen any suggestion of politics in the inquiry. The FBI also can bring white collar-crime experts -- accountants, etc. -- to an investigation that aren't always readily available to local prosecutors.
We know that things were inaccurately represented on numerous occasions at UCA and that money was spent in, let us say, creative ways. Were these criminal acts? That's a much more complicated question. Noted: Use of mails to promote personal enrichment on false pretexts and the participation of groups of people in knowingly carrying out such schemes are frowned on in the federal legal system. Also: many a federal investigation has come up dry in terms of criminal charges.
There might actually be a drawback to FBI participation. Under Arkansas law, the prosecutor's investigative file is open to public inspection when an investigation is closed, charge or no charge. I don't think the public has similar access to FBI working papers.