Friday, October 30, 2020

Ex-Senator Jeremy Hutchinson enters guilty plea in bribery case

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Former Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson entered a negotiated guilty plea in federal court in Springfield, Mo., in a bribery scheme with the former top officials of Preferred Family Healthcare.

The event was revealed when he entered a negotiated plea to end a federal case in Little Rock over illegal use of campaign money and federal income tax charges as well as a case in Fayetteville over taking bribes from an orthodontist to help with legislation. In Missouri, Hutchinson presumably will become the latest in a line of witnesses prepared to testify about illegal dealings with the massive healthcare nonprofit once headed by Tom and Bontiea Goss, just about the only major figures still fighting charges of corruption ranging from illegal political contributions, illegal lobbying, kickbacks and bribery of public officials to enhance the Medicaid business of the agency. It once received tens of millions in payments from five states. It has been banished from Arkansas.

Others who’ve done deals include, from Arkansas, former legislators Micah Neal, Eddie Cooper and Hank Wilkins, former lobbyist Rusty Cranford and former DHS employee and PFH executive Robin Raveendran.

Hutchinson was indicted on a dozen conspiracy, bribery and fraud charges for taking bribes to help PFH in the legislature. The money was disguised as supposed attorney fees.

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In the plea today, Hutchinson pleaded during a 15-minute hearing to a single count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. That charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but sentencing will be set later after a probation office report.

According to a Justice Department release, Hutchinson, 45:

.. admitted that he was hired by then-Chief Operating Officer Bontiea Goss as outside counsel for Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc.), and in exchange for payments and legal work, Hutchinson performed official acts on behalf of the Springfield, Missouri-based healthcare charity, including holding up agency budgets and drafting and voting on legislation. Goss, a former executive at the charity, is charged in the same superseding indictment to which Hutchinson pleaded guilty.

According to today’s plea agreement, the charity paid Hutchinson a monthly retainer from May 2014 until 2017. In total, Hutchinson was paid more than $350,000 in charity funds. Hutchinson also received hotel rooms and Major League Baseball tickets paid for by the charity, and the use of the charity’s luxury and recreational real estate.

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Hutchinson further admitted as part of his plea that: he understood that he was paid by Alternative Opportunities, Inc., and Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc., primarily because of his position as an elected public official; that he worked to further the interests of the non-profit while in the Arkansas State Legislature; that Goss, along with Milton Russell Cranford (also known as “Rusty”) and Robin Raveendran, both of whom served as executives for the charity and have also pleaded guilty for their role in the bribery scheme, directed Hutchinson to move the charity’s political agenda forward in the Arkansas Senate; and that Hutchinson performed some legal work for the charity to conceal his corrupt arrangement with the charity’s executives.

Much of the scheme was outlined in a 92-page superseding indictment, which is linked here.

And here is the plea agreement filed today. It notes it’s part of a “global” settlement of charges in three different federal courts. None of the various charges carry maximum sentences of greater than five years, but a sentencing judge could order consecutive sentences. Guidelines will determine upward and downward departures in the probation office sentencing recommendation.

An example of overt acts cited by the government that would seem to hold peril for the Gosses in their coming trial:

In or about 2015, “Accounting Firm A” conducted its annual audit of the Charity. In response to questions from Accounting Firm A, “Employee F” e-mailed T. Goss on October 21, 2015, the following:

Auditors want to send a legal letter to Jeremy Hutchinson to confirm no pending or threatening litigation with PFH that could be potential liability. This is standard practice for the auditors and we send them to multiple law firm[s]. They are looking for a contact email for Jeremy for him to prepare the letter; however his phones are disconnected? Do you all have an email address for him they can send the confirmation to?

To conceal the conspiracy and fraudulent scheme, and specifically that HUTCHINSON was being paid, in part, in exchange for taking favorable legislative and official action, T. Goss responded on the same day, October 21, 2015: “[Cranford] will. [HUTCHINSON] doesn’t work for us in a legal capacity though. He is a consultant. There is no need for the letter since he doesn’t provide legal services.”

The plea agreement details legislative action taken by Hutchinson to prevent a reduction in payments to PFH. Hutchinson remains free until sentencing.

The plea agreement notes that Hutchinson did some legal work for the nonprofit (poorly in at least one case that resulted in a default judgment) but he said that was to provide a cover for the bribery scheme.

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