Marilyn Nolan, the former CEO of Preferred Family Healthcare, pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Springfield to a conspiracy charge.
The court filing tells a familiar tale. She admits taking in more than $4 million in a web of bribery and kickback schemes as officials in the company, previously known as Alternative Opportunities, paid for illegal lobbying and campaign contributions and bribes to, among others, current and former Arkansas legislators. The Arkansas guilty pleas include former lobbyist Rusty Cranford, former Sen. Jon Woods, former Sen. Hank Wilkins, and former Rep. Eddie Cooper. The investigation, which grew to include the Ecclesia College kickback scandal, also caught former Rep. Micah Neal. Former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson has been indicted on campaign fund fraud charges. He also has been implicated, but not charged, in the PFH dealings. Other legislators have received money from the company as well, but have not been charged. The charge against Nolan described the bribes as being “disguised” as consulting, legal or other fees.
Federal prosecutors have been moving up the chain. In September, the nonprofit’s chief clinical officer, Keith Noble, was charged. As yet untouched are Tom and Bontiea Goss, the former chief financial and operating officer, respectively. Their attorney issued a statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette yesterday that they had never done anything improper, merely served the needy clients for whom the company was paid hundreds of millions in government reimbursement for health services.
Nolan admits working with Cranford, Noble and two other top executives on unlawful schemes for nine years. Nolan’s plea agreement says she wasn’t aware of all the schemes in which others in the company were involved but admits to personally profiting to the tune of more than $4 million. Nolan and the Gosses were fired in early 2018 after the various indictments started rolling out.
In detailing company business, David Ramsey reported for the Times that Marilyn Nolan’s sister was among a list of family members on the company payroll.
Nolan entered a guilty plea Friday before a federal magistrate in Springfield and released pending sentencing.
Here’s her plea agreement. It details her actions, such as making illegal campaign contributions, sometimes through straw donors, to political candidates, including in Congress.
In Arkansas, Cranford, Cooper and others organized fundraisers for many candidates running for seats in the Arkansas State Senate and Arkansas House of Representatives. At Cranford’s direction, “Employee D” prepared and disseminated invitations for the events, which were often held at venues such as restaurants and hotels in Little Rock, Arkansas. Cranford, Cooper and others paid for expenses related to the fundraisers using their Charity-issued corporate credit cards.
The document said they also paid bribes to Arkansas legislators — Woods, Wilkins, “Senator A” (believed to be Hutchinson, though he has not been charged) and others — for favorable legislative action.
Nolan faces up to five years in prison on the charge.
The criminal information filed Friday provides more details on Nolan’s activities.
It includes accounts of fund-raisers for politicians at places such as Sims Bar-b-q, Capital Hotel and Cajun’s Wharf in Little Rock and Sue’s Kitchen in Jonesboro. Politicians’ names are redacted, but some have been identified in past reporting. The document also details bribes to Jon Woods and other payments, including finding a job for a friend, and payments funneled to Wilkins through his Methodist church. There’s also
The document said:
Hutchinson, through his lawyer, has said his retainer arrangement with PFH was a legitimate contract to provide legal services. He did some work, including failing to respond to a lawsuit against a related agency in Batesville that produced a default judgment against the agency.
Interesting too were some documents referring to applications for General Improvement Fund outlays that Cranford steered.
There’s also a discussion of a $1 million Department of Human Services subgrant that was meant to pay Cranford for lobbying, not for services as the application indicated.