A former Preferred Family Healthcare clinic in Morrilton, Ark. BENJI HARDY

It’s been more than five years now since federal prosecutors first began bringing charges in a bribery scandal involving a Missouri-based behavioral health care charity that grew to prominence in Arkansas.

More than 20 guilty pleas and convictions eventually resulted from the sprawling case, including those of former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, former Sen. Jon Woods, former Sen. Hank Wilkins, lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford and various consultants and health-care executives.

Advertisement

Now, the criminal case against the married couple who led the behavioral health charity, Preferred Family Healthcare, appears to be reaching an end. The sentencing dates for Tommy Ray Goss and Bontiea Bernedette Goss are set for April 24 and 25, respectively. The Gosses will appear before U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes in federal court in Kansas City.

Sentencing memorandums, which usually include recommendations from the prosecution and defense, are due in March.

Advertisement

In addition to possible incarceration, the Gosses could face substantial financial costs  since they have agreed to a judicial order directing a money judgment for the amount of proceeds they obtained as a result of the conspiracy.

In September 2022, the Gosses entered into separate plea agreements. Bontiea Goss, who was Preferred Family Healthcare’s chief operating officer, pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge that could carry a federal sentence of five years in prison, though she will get less time for admitting the crime. Tommy Goss, who was the health care charity’s chief financial officer, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and to aiding in preparation of false tax returns.

Advertisement

In her agreement, Bontiea Goss acknowledged the government could prove that she hired Jeremy Hutchinson, then a state senator and now a federal prisoner, as an outside attorney. She agreed that she paid him to do legal work and to use his legislative position to obtain benefits for Preferred Family Healthcare. She agreed to joint restitution with her husband of up to $4.3 million, subject to the court’s determination.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, Preferred Family Healthcare agreed in 2022 to pay more than $8 million in forfeiture and restitution to the federal government and the state of Arkansas under the terms of a non-prosecution agreement, in which the charity admitted the criminal conduct of its former officers and employees. Preferred Family Healthcare’s website says it still operates dozens of locations in Missouri and Oklahoma, but no longer in Arkansas.

Advertisement

It was once among the largest behavioral health providers in the the state: By 2018, Preferred Family Healthcare employed about 700 people in Arkansas and received tens of millions of dollars in Medicaid funds every year. 

Bontiea Goss hired Hutchinson, a nephew of then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson, on the recommendation of another key figure in the bribery scandal, lobbyist Rusty Cranford. Cranford, who also worked as an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare, wielded his influence at the Capitol to shape rules and regulations that affected the behavioral health industry.

Advertisement

Tommy Goss acknowledged that the government could prove that he conspired with Cranford to provide money to then state Sens. Jon Woods and Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, a preacher, in return for official actions. Cranford paid cash to Woods, hired Woods’ girlfriend and sent cash to Wilkins’ church.

Under the tax charge, which carries a maximum sentence of three years, the government accused Goss of reporting about $1.5 million income in 2013 when it was materially more.

Advertisement

Wilkins, 69, was released from prison Dec. 22, according to U.S. Bureau of Prisons records. Cranford, 62, was released to home confinement in August 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and has been free since November 2022. Woods, 46, remains in prison.