LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Rep. Fred Smith, a former Harlem Globetrotter elected to the Arkansas Legislature resigned Wednesday after he was found guilty in a felony theft case.
Fred Smith announced his resignation after a judge found him guilty of theft of property delivered by mistake. Prosecutors had charged Smith last year after an audit found that a school district issued a duplicate payment of $29,250 to a nonprofit group run by Smith and that both payments were cashed.
“I respectfully disagree with the ruling,” Smith said in a statement. “After consultation with my attorney, I intend to appeal this decision and clear my good name.”
Smith, a former traveling basketball star, was elected to the Arkansas House last year amid questions about whether he has lived in Arkansas long enough to meet residency requirements. The House voted earlier this month to seat him anyhow.
Smith said he’s been living with his stepfather in Crawfordsville, Ark., and occasionally travels to northern Mississippi to visit his son. Smith played for the Globetrotters from 1997-1998 to 2002-2003.
Gov. Mike Beebe says he’ll have to call a special election to fill the vacancy left by Smith’s resignation. He’ll first have to ask the Democratic and Republican parties whether they want to hold a primary or convention to nominate candidates for the seat.
“I think if the facts are true and he was convicted of a felony, that’s what he should have done,” Beebe told reporters.
Smith’s resignation means that two House seats will be vacant during most or all of the legislative session that began Jan. 10.
On the same day that Smith resigned, another freshman lawmaker, Republican Sen. Bruce Holland of Greenwood, was charged with fleeing, careless driving and improper passing for leading authorities on what they called a high-speed chase through two counties. A Perry County sheriff’s deputy initially let Holland off with a warning because he believed Holland was exempt from arrest due to a provision in the state Constitution. The provision exempts lawmakers from some arrests during legislative sessions — but a 2003 attorney general’s opinion says lawmakers can be ticketed or arrested for criminal offenses.
Beebe said he didn’t believe the two incidents reflected poorly on the Legislature.
“They’re individuals. You can’t paint the whole Legislature with what happens to one individual or two individuals,” Beebe said. “The Legislature is like all legislatures. There’s 135 of them and 135 different people with 135 different strengths and weaknesses, et cetera.”