With three new indictments Thursday, an almost five-year-long federal investigation into political corruption has resulted in charges against more than a dozen government and business leaders in Arkansas and Missouri.
The first charges, starting January 2017, alleged that two Arkansas legislators accepted thousands of dollars in kickbacks to direct state General Improvement Fund grants to a Northwest Arkansas substance abuse treatment center operated by a Springfield, Mo.-based nonprofit, Preferred Family Healthcare Inc., as well as directing grants for kickbacks to a private Northwest Arkansas college.
Federal authorities later issued a series of bribery conspiracy charges against former executives of Preferred Family Healthcare, including Arkansas Capitol lobbyist and company executive Milton "Rusty" Cranford.
Those charges alleged that Cranford and at least five more Preferred Family executives engaged in illegal political lobbying and paid bribes to Arkansas legislators in exchange for favorable state laws and regulations. The company executives also are accused of stealing millions from their nonprofit and its predecessor, Alternative Opportunities Inc.
Five former Arkansas lawmakers have been charged or pleaded guilty so far.
Here's who's accused and where their cases stand:
1. Former state Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale -- Jan. 4, 2017: Pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services, mail and wire fraud in connection with taking kickbacks for directing state grants to small, private Ecclesia College of Springdale and Decision Point Inc., a Bentonville substance abuse treatment facility owned by Preferred Family Healthcare's predecessor. Allegations also included an unnamed state senator and a lobbyist later identified as Cranford. Federal court, Fayetteville. Now serving three years' probation and one-year house arrest, Neal was granted leniency for his "unprecedented" cooperation with federal authorities, according to the federal judge.
2. Former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale -- March 3, 2017: Pleads innocent to 17 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. He's accused of taking kickbacks and using his legislative position to approve more than $600,000 in state grants to Decision Point and Ecclesia College. Federal court, Fayetteville.
May 3, 2018: Jury finds Woods guilty of 15 felony counts. Sentence is 18 years, four months in prison, $1.6 million in restitution, $1 million forfeiture of assets. Now in federal prison, appealing his conviction to 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
3. Randell Shelton Jr., Ecclesia College consultant, friend of Jon Woods -- March 3, 2017: Pleads innocent to wire fraud and mail fraud related to helping channel kickback money from Ecclesia College to Woods and Neal. Tried alongside Woods.
May 3, 2018: Jury finds Shelton guilty of 12 federal corruption-related counts. Sentenced to six years in prison, three years of probation and $660,698 in restitution. Federal court, Fayetteville. Serving his sentence in federal prison, appealing conviction.
4. Former Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III -- March 3, 2017: Pleads innocent to wire fraud and mail fraud with Woods and Shelton. The scheme involved directing kickbacks to legislators Woods and Neal in exchange for accepting state grant money for Ecclesia College.
April 3, 2018: Paris changes to an unusual conditional plea of guilty, allowing him to appeal judge's decision not to dismiss charges. Sentenced to three years in prison, $621,500 in restitution, three years of supervised release. Federal court, Fayetteville. Currently in federal prison, appealing to 8th U.S. Circuit. Federal investigators in western Arkansas announce the Ecclesia College part of the federal probe is closed.
5. David Carl Hayes, Springfield, Mo., accountant and former Alternative Opportunities employee -- June 12, 2017: Pleads guilty in two fraud schemes, including embezzling $1,965,476 from Dayspring Behavioral Health Services in Arkansas, an arm of Preferred Family Healthcare's predecessor company, between 2011 to 2014. The other scheme involves a separate private company. Court records in another case allege Hayes helped coordinate schemes to illegally route the nonprofit's income into business deals that enriched top executives and himself. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Died Nov. 20, 2017, apparent suicide.
6. Donald Andrew Jones, former Philadelphia lobbyist for Preferred Family Healthcare and its predecessor -- Dec. 18, 2017: Pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy. Admits to accepting $973,800 from Preferred Family between 2011 and 2016 for political lobbying in Congress and elsewhere. Such lobbying is illegal for nonprofit charities like Preferred Family. Jones is also accused of paying kickbacks to two Arkansas lobbyists, one later identified as Rusty Cranford. Federal court, western Missouri. Awaits sentencing.
7. Former state Rep. Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne, also a former Preferred Family Healthcare lobbyist -- Feb. 12, 2018: Pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to embezzle more than $4 million from the nonprofit. Admits working as a legislator and lobbyist in Arkansas and Missouri with Cranford to pass state laws and rules favorable to the company's services to Medicaid clients. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Awaits sentencing.
8. Milton "Rusty" Cranford, Preferred Family Healthcare's Arkansas executive and longtime lobbyist at state Capitol -- Feb. 20, 2018: Charged, jailed and pleads innocent to nine counts of conspiracy and receiving bribes in connection with his work for Preferred Family and others to influence legislation.
March 12, 2018: Cranford also accused in a federal court filing of trying to arrange the murder of a co-conspirator, Donald Jones.
June 7, 2018: Cranford pleads guilty to one count of federal program bribery, in connection with bribing Arkansas lawmakers to influence laws and state regulations to benefit Preferred Family and other Cranford clients, between 2010 to 2017. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Awaits sentencing.
9. Former state Rep. Henry "Hank" Wilkins IV, D-Pine Bluff -- April 30, 2018: Pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, including taking $83,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas legislation to favor Preferred Family Healthcare in the state's Medicaid program, and other actions. Federal court, Little Rock. Awaits sentencing.
10. Jerry Walsh, former executive director of now-closed South Arkansas Youth Services agency, Magnolia -- July 19, 2018: Pleads guilty to one count of diverting $380,000 from his agency without board approval in connection with paying an unnamed Arkansas state senator and Cranford and hiring Cranford's son. The conspiracy's goal was to influence Arkansas state contracts to favor Walsh's agency. Federal court, El Dorado. Awaits sentencing.
11. Keith Noble, former senior executive, Preferred Family Healthcare -- Sept. 11, 2018: Pleads guilty to one count of concealing knowledge of a felony in connection with schemes by four other top executives to divert money from the nonprofit's work to enrich themselves. In plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to Noble's request for a sentence of probation, along with paying $4.3 million in restitution. A judge will decide. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Awaits sentencing.
12. Marilyn Nolan, former CEO, Preferred Family Healthcare -- Nov. 8, 2018: Pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy in connection with working with other company executives and political lobbyists to bribe Arkansas lawmakers to influence laws and regulations to inflate Preferred Family's profits. Also admits she and other executives stole millions from the nonprofit, including $4.1 million for herself. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Awaits sentencing.
13. Former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock -- Aug. 30, 2018: Indicted on, and pleads innocent to, 12 counts of wire and tax fraud, alleging he misspent campaign donations and underreported his income on federal tax forms. Federal court, Little Rock. Awaits trial.
March 29 (indictment made public Thursday): Indicted on, and pleads innocent to, 12 felony counts, including conspiracy, bribery and honest-services fraud. He's accused of accepting bribes to influence Arkansas legislation and regulations favorable to Preferred Family Healthcare. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Awaits trial.
14. Tom Goss, former chief financial officer, Preferred Family Healthcare -- March 29 (indictment made public Thursday): Indicted on 24 counts including conspiracy, bribery, theft, honest-services fraud, and aiding and assisting false tax returns. Pleads innocent. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Awaits trial.
15. Bontiea Goss, former chief operating officer, Preferred Family Healthcare -- March 29 (indictment made public Thursday): Indicted on 22 counts including conspiracy, bribery, theft, honest services fraud, and aiding and assisting false tax returns. Bontiea Goss, referred to in court filings as "the boss," pleads innocent. Federal court, Springfield, Mo. Awaits trial.
-- Compiled by Lisa Hammersly and Eric Besson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff
A Section on 04/12/2019