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Jeremy Hutchinson faces new indictment in bribery scheme with health provider

April 11, 2019, Little Rock, AR — Former Republican state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has been indicted in federal court in Missouri for taking payments from a health provider in return for legislative influence. His indictment was part of a broader action that reaches to the top of the multistate nonprofit organization at the center of a long-running public corruption probe.

Hutchinson already faces trial for tax and other charges related to spending of campaign money for personal expenses. He resigned from the Senate after he was indicted. At the time that indictment was announced, sources indicated a review of his work for Preferred Family Healthcare was ongoing. He's been identified in previous court filings as receiving putative legal fees from the provider of various health services in return for providing legislative influence. Rusty Cranford, who's pleaded guilty to bribing legislators to advance the interests of his former employer, Preferred Family Healthcare, and other entities, has been cooperating with authorities in the case.

Today's charges, in an indictment returned last month but not unsealed until today, included Tom and Bontiea Goss, who'd led Preferred Family until removal by the board of directors following a spate of criminal charges against others. Tom Goss founded the organization, which grew to encompass organizations in five states operating dozens of mental health and other social services agencies funded primarily by Medicaid, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

The Gosses and Hutchinson all made initial appearances today before a federal magistrate in Springfield and were released pending trial on their own recognizance. A trial date was set for Hutchinson on June 10, but is likely to be delayed.

Marc L. Mukasey of New York, trial counsel for Jeremy Hutchinson, provided this statement:

Jeremy Hutchinson pled not guilty to today’s charges and he will be exonerated after trial. Today’s indictment is a reminder that the government's power to violate the Fifth and Sixth Amendments by forcing the same person to defend himself on multiple charges in multiple places, all at the same time, must be checked. We will fight the government no matter how many times, or in how many places, they bring their trumped-up charges.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained a statement from Tim Hutchinson, the former senator and governor's brother, who stands by his son. His statement:

“This recent ploy undeniably increases the pressure on Jeremy, who now faces a costly two front defense against the government’s unlimited resources. But I respect and support Jeremy in his decision to not plead guilty to any accusation of which he is innocent.”
Tim Hutchinson and former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins are promoting a legal defense fund for Jeremy. None has been willing to provide an accounting of it.

The 32-count indictment, recounted in an 85-page filing, includes 12 charges against Hutchinson. The charges span conspiracy, fraud, bribery and, by the Gosses, false tax returns. It recounts many of those named in previous criminal charges, but also lists in its narrative some unnamed former employees, including at least one former Arkansas legislator and a former state employee. One is identified as a former director of program integrity. That matches the description of Robin Raveendran, a former DHS employee who faces state Medicaid fraud charges. A former legislator who served from 2009 to 2013 is also referenced, a likely reference to former Republican Rep. Tim Summers, who's previously denied wrongdoing as an employee of a PFH affiliate. They are not charged but not specifically named.

As David Ramsey noted in an extensive report on the tentacles of PFH, Hutchinson received some $500,000 from the nonprofit and other firms for putative legal work. Hutchinson has contended he did legitimate work. Cranford has told authorities it was a quid pro quo. In one famous case, Hutchinson actually did real work poorly. He was the lawyer on a lawsuit against a PFH related nonprofit in Batesville, but failed to file the paperwork and that resulted in a default judgment against the company. Other "work" was more important. As Ramsey noted:

Legislators on Cranford's payroll were utility players. In exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in purported legal fees, the federal information filed along with Cranford's plea alleges that Senator A [Hutchinson]'s services included "holding up agency budgets; requesting legislative audits; sponsoring, filing and voting for legislative bills; and influencing the award of [General Improvement Fund] funds to [AO/PFH] and Cranford clients."

The latest indictment was unsealed today in Springfield, home of Preferred Family Health. It is a multistate provider of services financed by Medicaid and other federal and state grant programs. The investigation of it and others has led to multiple indictments and guilty pleas. Former legislators Eddie Cooper, Hank Wilkins, Micah Neal, Jon Woods and Jake Files have been convicted or pleaded guilty to charges of public corruption, some with multiple schemes, but all the allegations except for those against Files had ties to PFH or an affiliate.

The continuing investigation has also produced charges against several former employees of PFH or its predecessor corporations and caused the company to stop doing business in Arkansas. It has new leadership and has said it is endeavoring to cleanse itself of ties to past illicit dealings. Its two top officers were removed by the organization's board but had not been charged previously though some other top executives, a former lobbyist and a former accountant have all been implicated.

Hutchinson's indictment is a sign, sources say, that the investigation is not over. In seeking dismissal of his first indictment, Hutchinson has already revealed efforts of the government to get him to enlist as a cooperating witness, an effort that originally came to naught. With new charges, he might take a different view of negotiating. Past charges related to legislative influence peddling have contained hints, if not direct charges, about the involvement of other members of the legislature in receiving pay from PFH or similar operations for helping them with allocations from the state General Improvement Fund. GIF was an unconstitutional pork barrel whose expenditures sometimes produced kickbacks for legislators charged so far.

Here's the indictment.

It details the corruption of the General Improvement Fund and efforts by Preferred Family and its agents to work around accountability prog

Source: Arkansas Times

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