A superseding indictment yesterday against Tom and Bontiea Goss, former heads of the Preferred Family Healthcare nonprofit at the center of a vast public corruption investigation, outlined more than legislative acts by former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson in return for bribes.
Hutchinson has pleaded guilty and the new indictment, packed with information about Hutchinson’s involvement in various schemes to benefit people who were paying him, indicates he is singing to federal prosecutors in hopes of reducing his prison time.
Yesterday’s indictment detailed how Hutchinson had altered “justice reform” legislation to create some profit-making opportunities in the rehab business for PFH.
But there’s also this, beginning in Page 49 of the document. It describes how Hutchinson was paid to intercede with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to arrange $4 million in economic incentives to lure an unnamed industrial facility to Northwest Arkansas from an existing facility in Ohio.
It mentions an email by Tom Goss to his wife Bontiea Goss, top officials of PFH, and lobbyist Rusty Cranford in October 2013 when Mike Beebe was governor:
“We need a guarantee from Congress and signed by the Gov that [AEDC Official A] won’t screw us just like he is scared we will screw him.”
AEDC officials apparently had questions about the deal and Goss grew impatient, according to emails detailed in the indictment. The AEDC wanted to visit the Ohio facility. Tom Goss responded to a note about that from his wife, “Fuck them.”
The indictment continues:
Later that day, October 29, 2013, T. GOSS e-mailed Cranford again, stating, amongst other statements, the following: All I want from Jeremy is an up or down vote if he can get it. If they want us there, I will guarantee 250 jobs in 5 years, $10k a job at the $10.86 OR more THEY PROPOSED. OR they can sign something guaranteeing [Entity E] $10k a job as we create them and pay as we hire. When we get to 250 we can do a new deal. So if they don’t trust [Entity E] and need to see the jobs, then I will turn the tables and trust them, but I want a guarantee.
Cranford forwarded the October 29, 2013, e-mail described in the preceding paragraph above to Hutchinson on the same day, stating: “I was told today! You and I will meet on this tomorrow or they don’t see a future in Arkansas after yet another stall attic [sic] of visiting OHIO! This e-mail is not to be forwarded.”
Ultimately, the AEDC recommended that the governor not do a deal with this entity. Hutchinson pocketed $7,500.
The indictment against the PFH leaders details other illicit activities involving Jeremy Hutchinson and other legislators, a chunky soup of bribery and legislative favors and handouts of state surplus money. The enormity is breath-taking. And so is the email trove that illustrates it all. The scheme ran for five years.
The new indictment is, if nothing else, a rare window into the secretive business of state dickering for economic development deals. Big money is involved in cash handouts and tax breaks. Consultants play matchmaker roles in many such deals. That is not illegal, though a sitting legislator taking cash to influence government action is another matter.
The subject brings to mind our reporting yesterday on the presence of Asa Hutchinson III on the current trade mission to China and Japan by his father, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Jeremy Hutchinson’s uncle. Asa III, who’s reportedly paying his own way to join the Arkansas delegation at sessions with industrialists and a visit to the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, lists as clients of his law firm three Chinese manufacturers that have struck deals to locate plants in Arkansas, including cash payments from the governor’s quick action closing fund. The plants have been touted as major economic boons to the state. The governor and his son have not responded to questions about their separate work with these Chinese entities.
Here’s a fresh picture of the Hutchinson team meeting with the U.S. ambassador to China.