Former executives of the nonprofit at the heart of a sweeping federal political corruption probe in Arkansas face new wire-fraud charges after a federal grand jury on Wednesday surfaced a fresh allegation involving former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson.
Hutchinson pleaded guilty in July to accepting bribes in connection to payments made by a nonprofit run by the married couple, Bontiea and Tom Goss. Hutchinson awaits sentencing and could lessen his prison time by cooperating with investigators.
He was not charged with additional crimes Wednesday.
The new indictment says that Hutchinson added language, at Bontiea Goss' request, to a Senate bill he sponsored. The language, which remained when the bill became the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2015, helped the Gosses' nonprofit "because it provided an advantage to the Charity when competing for valuable [Arkansas] contracts," the indictment says.
Indictment on Tom and Bonteia GossView
The wording stemmed from months of talks about how to leverage criminal-justice overhaul efforts in a way that would help the nonprofit, according to the indictment. The aim was to help the firm win approval to create a "pay-for-success program."
The so-called Pay-for-Success Act, a small part of the broader 41-page criminal-justice package, was designed to allow the state to contract with firms that could provide intervention programs, such as mental health treatment or job opportunities, to people on probation or parole, legislative records show.
The allegations came to light when a Springfield, Mo., grand jury amended its standing indictment against Bontiea and Tom Goss to include three new wire-fraud charges each. It did not expand the long-running investigation to include new people.
Five Arkansas lawmakers, as well as lobbyists and other nonprofit executives, have so far been convicted of federal crimes stemming from the investigation, which involves three prosecutors' offices in Arkansas and Missouri.
Bontiea Goss, former chief operating officer of Preferred Family Healthcare, now faces 24 federal charges. Tom Goss, the former chief financial officer of the same firm, which operated dozens of mental health and substance abuse clinics in Arkansas, is now accused of 27 federal crimes.
Both have pleaded innocent and will be re-arraigned on the new charges. The pair's trial is scheduled for April 2021.
Separate attorneys for Hutchinson, Bontiea Goss and Tom Goss did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday evening.
The former state senator, a nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, first said that payments he received from the Missouri-based health care provider were a retainer for legal services.
Earlier this year -- facing 25 federal charges combined in Springfield, Little Rock and Fayetteville -- Hutchinson pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in Springfield and specifically acknowledged that he was taking bribes in exchange for legislative action.
Hutchinson in June also pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery with an orthodontist and to tax fraud. Those charges originated in Fayetteville and Little Rock, respectively.
Hutchinson and his attorney Tim Dudley of Little Rock have declined to say whether the former lawmaker is cooperating with investigators in an attempt to reduce his sentence.
Before Hutchinson's guilty plea hearing in July, a Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter heard Dudley tell Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mohlhenrich of Missouri's Western District that Hutchinson would meet with him later that day.
'WANT TO DO IT'
A timeline laid out in the amended charging document says the "pay-for-success" talks among Hutchinson, the Gosses and their Arkansas lobbyist Milton "Rusty" Cranford began in October 2014 and continued until the bill became Act 895 of 2015 on April 2.
Hutchinson received $63,000 -- in seven $9,000 intervals -- between Oct. 3, 2014 and March 30, 2015 from the nonprofit, according to the indictment.
At the time, the nonprofit was called Alternative Opportunities. It merged with Preferred Family Healthcare in May 2015, and Bontiea and Tom Goss moved on to the combined firm and held the same positions.
Hutchinson and Cranford began discussing sources of money for the criminal-justice overhaul in October 2014, the indictment says. On Oct. 14, Hutchinson told the lobbyist by text message that he "found [$]20 million per year today in budget hearings that no one knows about."
"Yall can't get all of that but hopefully some of it," the senator wrote, later adding that "we got to keep quiet for now or everyone will be wanting that money."
A month later, Hutchinson and Cranford discussed "potential and valuable contracts" that Alternative Opportunities could receive if proposed criminal justice system changes moved forward, the indictment says.
On Feb. 13, 2015, Tom Goss sent a lengthy email to Cranford suggesting that potential contract opportunities needed to focus on "school experience, therapy and vast vocational" experience.
"The bill need[s] to be written so the winner can provide or can collaborate with someone that does [jobs services]," Goss wrote, according to the indictment. "Talk to the right people but I think you understand what I am saying. ... I know one provider in Arkansas that is really good at all the components if they get in the bill ..."
Cranford sent the email to Hutchinson and, after a back-and-forth, told the senator that Goss was offering advice.
"I know," Hutchinson replied, according to the charging document. "I want to do it but I need to know the language needed to do it."
At the time, the language in the yet-to-be-filed draft version of the bill would have allowed the state's parole and probation department to partner only with two- or four-year public universities for the pay-for-success program, according to the indictment.
Hutchinson forwarded that draft language to Bontiea Goss on Feb. 16. Bontiea Goss suggested adding language allowing potential partners to be "an accredited community based provider specializing in behavioral health, case management and job placement services," according to the indictment.
"Perfect," Hutchinson replied.
Three days later, Hutchinson filed the bill with that language, legislative records show. The Senate voted 33-0 to pass Hutchinson's bill, SB472. The House cleared it by a 79-5 tally.
The charging document does not say how much money, if any, the Missouri nonprofit received from the pay-for-success program.
A Section on 11/07/2019
Print Headline: Indictment says couple bought legislation tweaks