An unnamed Arkansas lobbyist and a former legislator have been identified as co-conspirators in a scheme in which a political consultant conspired to take nearly $1 million from a nonprofit for use on illegal political activity.
The AP reports that Donald Andrew Jones, 62, of Willingboro, N.J., has pleaded guilty to conspiring to get $973,000 from Preferred Family Healthcare of Springfield, Mo., to use for lobbying and political contributions. Five unnamed co-conspirators who worked for Preferred Family Health have not been charged. One of those is said to be an Arkansas lobbyist and another a lobbyist and former legislator.
Preferred Family has been in the news before in relation to questionable political activities. One of its affiliates, Decision Point, which operates mental health and youth services facilities around Arkansas, figures in the pending kickback case against former legislators Micah Neal, who has pleaded guilty, and Jon Woods, who faces trial. According to documents in that case. a lobbyist for Decision Point, Rusty Cranford, arranged for its employees to apply for state surplus money for a corporation he’d created, with kickbacks planned to legislators. The company has denied wrongdoing. Cranford has not been charged. The same case alleges similar kickbacks from money directed to the church-related Ecclesia College in Springdale.
I’ve reported previously that Tim Summers, a former state legislator from Bentonville and employee of Decision Point, had signed an application for an $80,000 grant to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to poor families and that Rusty Cranford was the responsible agent for the program, which received $19,000. I can’t say if his work in this instance has any relationship to the Springfield case. Many legislators were involved in funneling money to agencies tied to the kickback case. It doesn’t mean they did anything wrong, beyond participating in the
UPDATE: Having now looked at the full information, it is clear the reference
This is big business. The various nonprofits related to this operation received $178 million in Medicaid reimbursements from Arkansas alone in the years 2011-16, according to the information filed against Jones
The information references two people with Arkansas ties — one a resident of Rogers identified as a registered lobbyist and an employee of the company and the other a resident of Melbourne, who was an Arkansas legislator from 2006 to 2011 and a registered lobbyist since who else served on the board of Alternative Opportunities, the previous corporate name for Preferred Health and was an employee through February of this year. Eddie Cooper, a Democrat from Melbourne, served in the House during that period.
The crux of the case is political activity — contributions to candidates and payment of nonprofit money for lobbying — with money from the nonprofit agency, which is contrary to federal tax law governing nonprofits set up with charity status.
They disguised improper payments as being for “consulting” or “training,” the information says, rather than payment for legislative lobbying. The lobbying included, the information said, efforts to obtain government grants. Payments made by participants in the scheme to political campaigns, when relying on nonprofit agency money, are just as illegal as direct contributions by the nonprofit, the information says. Jones specifically was accused of making a kickback to “Person 4,” the lobbyist from Rogers who also worked for the nonprofit. The information says that person also made two payments to “Person 7,” the lobbyist and former legislator from Melbourne.
The information says Jones lobbied members of Congress to fight an overtime wage audit of Alternative Opportunities by the Labor Department. The information quotes an e-mail from Jones to the Rogers lobbyist in which he said he’d thanked three U.S. representatives and one senator for their help (their names were redacted) and said, “They were pleased to hear about the positive turnout.”
Jones also wrote this:
This is but one of many references to sending contributions through individuals to congressmen. There’s no way to know to which congressmen these notes refer. The company did business in several states, including Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and some of the congressional outreach specifically mentions, for example, work in Missouri.
Filings in this case also indicate it’s related to that of David Carl Hayes, a Springfield accountant who committed suicide after pleading guilty to embezzlement and tax evasion charges related to money he took from Alternative Opportunities.