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The Bella Vista go-getter I've often referred to (in a respectful way) as Northwest Arkansas' political gadfly is speaking up again in court, this time on behalf of himself and other Arkansans who paid taxes used to bribe elected officials and line the pockets of a privileged few.

Retired Lt. Col. James Parsons has been called a rabble-rouser in the press. That characterization depends on which side of public transparency you stand.

Over the years Parsons has been an aggressive champion for governmental transparency and a thorn in the side of several institutions, including the discredited Ecclesia College, as well as Parsons' perennial courtroom foe, the much publicized Bella Vista Property Owners' Association.

Parsons filed a Freedom of Information Act suit against Springdale's Ecclesia College in March. He sought information about how the tiny Christian college with big political connections had spent the tax money deceptively secured by a former state senator and a state representative, both since convicted. That career-ending statehouse scandal involved tens of thousands in benefits the school gained from the state's now defunct General Improvement Fund.

And last week, Parsons and his bulldog attorney, Joey McCutchen of Fort Smith, were back with a fresh lawsuit filed in Benton County. This one alleges illegal exaction of taxes by Preferred Family Healthcare (PFH) of Springfield, Mo., doing business in Arkansas under several names including Health Resources of Arkansas, Decision Point, Dayspring Behavioral Health Services and the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center, received $52,810,672 in Arkansas taxpayer funds distributed to the defendants through the Arkansas Department of Human Services and state Medicaid programs. The suit wants all money gained illegally returned to the state treasury.

Between 2011 and 2016, PFH received additional state funds from the state's General Improvement Fund, according to the lawsuit. "A significant portion of the funds received by PFH from the State of Arkansas were acquired using unlawful means and were utilized in a manner other than that represented by PFH," the suit alleges.

As I've come to expect from Mr. Parsons, he's always ready and willing to defend transparency in government and adherence to laws even at great personal expense, which is what makes him a perennial pain to those who prefer operating in the dark.

His suit names numerous defendants related to the PFH holdings. Among other allegations, it asserts that from March 1, 2014 to June 30, 2018, PFH took part in a scheme to illegally bill the state of Arkansas Medicaid Program by charging a higher rate than was authorized, billing for ineligible services, and lobbying the Legislature to prevent installing safeguards that could prevent overbilling.

There was more: "[B]eginning at least in 2010 and continuing through 2017," the suit claims, "PFH engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to, illegally make campaign donations to, and otherwise illegally benefit members of the Arkansas General Assembly in exchange for steering GIF money to PFH and its subsidiaries. That defendants, and each of them, knew or with reasonable diligence should have known of the illegal activities of PFH."

Also, beginning at least in 2010 and continuing through 2017, the suit continues, "PFH engaged in a scheme to utilize tax revenues ... for purposes other than the purposes represented to the State of Arkansas in PFH's application for those funds. ... PFH utilized those funds for the sole purpose of unjustly enriching its officers and directors, their families, and various legislators, lobbyists and contractors through which those funds were funneled. PFH further fraudulently concealed this scheme by falsely describing these payments on its books and in public as 'training' and 'consulting' and creating sham contracts for services. ..."

"[T]he misuse of funds further includes, but is not limited to, bribes paid by defendants to Arkansas legislators Henry Wilkins IV, Jon Woods, and Eddie Cooper; World Series tickets ... payments of salaries in the high six-figures and hundreds of thousands more in unreported income to officers and directors of PFH; payments for lake houses in Carroll County, Arkansas, beach homes in Florida, and chartered air flights for vacations for defendants' family, friends, and pets. That throughout this process, the defendants, and each of them, engaged in active concealment of their illegal and fraudulent activities, with the intention of shielding them from the general public while enriching themselves."

McCutchen characterized the actions by describing how Arkansas citizens threw their money at the defendants with the expectation, not of a road or bridge, but of mental health services for those most in need. "Instead, plaintiffs find millions of their taxpayer dollars being misused by defendants for paying mortgages for their lake houses, giving no interest loans to family members, plying legislators with jobs for their spouses, World Series tickets, tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks, and generally feathering the nests of numerous unclean birds far in excess of reasonable compensation for work at a nonprofit institution."

I prefer "unclean buzzards."

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 12/04/2018

Print Headline: MIKE MASTERSON: 'Unclean birds'

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