Former AR Senator Jeremy Hutchinson indicted for embezzlement, public corruption scheme

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (News release)  – Two former executives of a Springfield, Mo.-based charity and an Arkansas state senator have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a multi-million-dollar public corruption scheme that involved embezzlement, bribes and illegal campaign contributions for elected public officials in Missouri and Arkansas, announced U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison of the Western District of Missouri and Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Bontiea Bernedette Goss, 63, her husband, Tommy Ray Goss, also known as “Tom,” 63, residents of Springfield, Mo., and Boulder, Colo., and Jeremy Young Hutchinson, 45, of Little Rock, Ark., were charged on March 29, 2019, in a 32-count indictment by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., which was unsealed today. Read the full indictment here.

The indictment alleges that the Gosses, who were high-level executives at Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc.), and Hutchinson, who is an attorney and served as a state senator in the Arkansas Senate from 2011 to 2018, along with others, participated in a conspiracy from 2005 to November 2017 to embezzle and misapply the funds of a charitable organization that received federal funds, to pay bribes and kickbacks to elected officials (including Hutchinson), and to deprive the citizens of Arkansas of their right to the honest services of those elected officials.

According to the indictment, in exchange for the bribes and kickbacks offered by the Gosses and other co-conspirators, Hutchinson and other elected officials allegedly provided favorable legislative and official action for the charity, including directing funds from the state’s General Improvement Fund (GIF). 

The indictment also alleges that the Gosses and others defrauded the charity, and the governmental entities that funded the charity, by embezzling and misapplying charity funds for their personal benefit, including, but not limited to:

•    causing the charity to pay for chartered air flights for the Gosses to commute between their home in Colorado and their work at the charity’s office in Springfield;
•    providing millions of dollars in interest-free loans to their for-profit companies;
•    charging the charity inflated prices to lease vehicles from their for-profit companies;
•    renting charity-owned commercial real estate to one of their for-profit companies at below-market rates or, in some instances, for free; and
•    using charity funds to pay for personal services for themselves, including child and pet care, housekeeping and cleaning their personal residences, picking up and delivering groceries, and shoveling snow, among other personal services paid for by the charity.

The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require the Gosses and Hutchinson to forfeit to the government any property obtained from the proceeds of the alleged offenses.

The charity was known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc. from its founding in 1991 until its 2015 merger with Preferred Family Healthcare. The charity, which is cooperating with federal investigators, provided a variety of services to individuals in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Illinois, including mental and behavioral health treatment and counseling, substance abuse treatment and counseling, employment assistance, aid to individuals with developmental disabilities and medical services.

Preferred Family Healthcare released a statement following the unsealing of the indictment: 

“The indictment of Tom and Bontiea Goss is the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year investigation conducted by several governmental agencies, with the full cooperation of Preferred Family Healthcare (PFH).

PFH is a victim of the actions alleged in the indictment. Mr. and Mrs. Goss were principal officers of Alternative Opportunities (AO), an organization based in Springfield, MO. In 2014, AO approached Preferred Family Healthcare (PFH), headquartered in Kirksville, MO, with a merger proposal. PFH was a highly respected provider of community-based behavioral health services. At the time of the merger proposal, Mr. and Mrs. Goss knew that federal prosecutors were investigating public corruption by AO, but they concealed the existence of that investigation from PFH. Even following the merger, Mr. and Mrs. Goss continued for an extended period to conceal the investigations and substance of the public corruption claims.

Since June of 2016, when the investigation was first disclosed to its full Board, PFH has cooperated fully with the government investigation. This investigation disclosed a pattern of improper payments and transactions designed to personally benefit Mr. and Mrs. Goss and other company officers and representatives in clear violation of their fiduciary responsibility to the organization. When the full scope of the misdeeds came to light, PFH terminated the employment of Mr. and Mrs. Goss (and other officers involved) and filed suit against them (document attached) and others to recover the losses resulting from their improper actions.

PFH is now focusing on the future. President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Schwend made this clear. “The last few years have been difficult to say the least, but we have emerged a better and stronger organization, with new leadership and a renewed focus on our core mission of providing needed help to the most vulnerable populations among us. As we look to the future of PFH, we are once again very proud to lead this wonderful company and its 3,200 dedicated and passionate employees.”

The charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich of the Western District of Missouri; Trial Attorney Marco A. Palmieri with the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division; Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Wulff of the Western District of Arkansas; and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti of the Eastern District of Arkansas. It was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the FBI, and the Offices of the Inspectors General from the Departments of Justice, Labor, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). This is a combined investigation with the Western District of Arkansas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, and the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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