- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas public defender appeared in court Monday on preliminary charges of conspiracy to commit rape after police say he made arrangements with an undercover officer posing as a father offering a juvenile for sex.

Daniel Arthur Stewart was arrested Saturday in Fort Smith as part of a joint operation by the FBI and the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office. He was taken to Faulkner County and had his first court appearance Monday, where his bond was set at $250,000. His arraignment is scheduled for April 8.

According to a warrant posted Monday in circuit court, an undercover investigator posed online as a father offering sexual contact with a juvenile. The warrant said Stewart arranged over the course of several weeks to meet with the officer.

Stewart’s attorney, Bill James, said his client was making arrangements to be released on bond Monday afternoon.

“We take the charges very seriously. I have not seen the affidavit yet. It’s still early,” James said. “I’m looking forward to investigating it, rolling up my sleeves and seeing what is and isn’t fact.”

The document said Stewart was supposed to drive to Conway to meet with the fictitious father and juvenile, but had been sick and asked if they could come to Fort Smith. Stewart was arrested at a hotel where the investigator said the public defender had arranged through text messages to meet with the father and juvenile.

Gregg Parrish, executive director of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission, confirmed that Stewart was the managing public defender in the Sebastian County office at the time of his arrest. Parrish said Stewart offered his resignation Monday, and it was accepted.

“We’ve contacted the governor’s office and asked them to lift the hiring freeze to fill that position,” Parrish said.

Parrish said in addition to managing the caseloads of other attorneys, Stewart also had about 150 felony cases he was working on. He said he is reviewing those cases to divide them among other public defenders, but also reviewing the charges filed against the clients to determine if the preliminary charges against Stewart would have an impact on those defendants.

Faulkner Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Adam Bledsoe said investigators focused on Internet crimes against children have made 11 arrests in similar online sting operations recently.

“The message we are trying to send loud and clear is this is not acceptable in Faulkner County, and if you bring it here we will arrest you and your picture and name will be in the media,” Bledsoe said.

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