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Springfield, MO

PFH employees accused in funding conspiracy

Springfield nonprofit allegedly paid consultant nearly $1 million for illegal lobbying and political sway

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Several Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. executives were accused during court proceedings Dec. 18 of conspiracy to misuse nearly $1 million of charitable and government funding.

Pennsylvania political consultant Donald Andrew Jones, aka D.A. Jones, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with the four executives and another employee of Springfield-based PFH to spend $973,807 on illegal political activities and kickbacks, according to charges by the office of Tom Larson, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

PFH, which formed in the 2015 merger of Alternative Opportunities Inc. in Springfield and Preferred Family Healthcare in Kirksville, provides care for mental health, substance abuse and medical treatments, as well as employment services in five states – mostly through government funding, such as Medicaid, Medicare and grants.

None of the PFH employees were named in the court documents, but three executives described as Springfield residents were accused of sending money to Jones in such as way as to conceal its source or purpose.

The nonprofit recently placed Chief Operations Officer Bontiea Goss, her husband and company Chief Financial Officer Tom Goss, and CEO Marilyn Nolan on unpaid administrative leave, said Reginald McElhannon, PFH’s executive vice president of corporate communications. Each earned more than $435,000 per year, according to PFH’s 2015 Form 990 filed with the IRS.

Bontiea Goss, named one of Springfield Business Journal’s 2017 Most Influential Women, declined to comment initially, then sent SBJ a statement through Kansas City criminal defense law firm Morgan Pilate LLC. She denies any criminal wrongdoing.

“Though it has been extremely difficult to step away from the people she loves and the causes she is deeply committed to, it is her hope that this step will allow the company to continue to provide its valuable services to many members of the community without the cloud of suspicion created by the government’s allegations,” reads the statement, sent by partner Melanie Morgan.

McElhannon, in the PFH office, also sent SBJ a statement on behalf of the company.

“PFH is cooperating fully with federal authorities, and those discussions are ongoing,” the statement from McElhannon reads. “At the same time, we have taken proactive actions to address issues identified by the government, including restructuring executive management and board roles.”

Jones and his D.A. Jones & Associates in Philadelphia are no longer affiliated with PFH, according to the statement.

“It is important to note that PFH is not a target of the government’s investigation,” PFH officials said in the statement. “We take seriously the allegations that individuals associated with AO may have engaged in unlawful activity unbeknownst to the rest of the organization. PFH is working with the government to fully understand the allegations and take any additional steps, as appropriate.”

Email messages sent to PFH board members were not returned by deadline.

The fourth alleged co-conspirator is listed in court documents as a PFH executive and lobbyist from Rogers, Arkansas. A fifth is described as a board member and employee of the charity, in addition to being a former state legislator from Melbourne, Arkansas.

SBJ’s interview request to Eddie Cooper, a former state legislator from Melbourne, Arkansas, and the former director of operations for PFH’s Dayspring Behavioral Health Services, was not returned.

In the guilty plea, Jones admitted he worked from 2011 through January 2017 to provide PFH illegal advocacy services, including political campaign contributions and direct contact with legislators and government officials in order to influence elected and appointed public officers regarding legislative issues that impacted the charity. He also solicited the assistance of officials in steering grants and other sources of funding to the charity, the release said.

Such actions are described in court documents as violations of the nonprofit’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

Meanwhile, PFH experienced a financial windfall during the documented scheme.

Between 2011 and 2015, PFH’s annual revenue doubled to $66 million, according to federal 990 forms on file with the IRS. Revenue ballooned to $181 million in fiscal 2016 – including $134 million from Medicaid and Medicare – according to an independent audit by Seim Johnson LLP in Omaha, Nebraska.

Jones also admitted to paying $219,000 in kickbacks to the employee from Rogers and $45,000 to the individual from Melbourne. Jones could receive a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole. His Philadelphia attorney, Alan Tauber, did not respond to SBJ’s interview request.

From its 1111 S. Glenstone Ave. office, PFH’s Chief Clinical Officer Keith Noble and Executive Director Mike Schwend continue to oversee some 4,100 employees and 145 locations, McElhannon said. A phone message for Noble was not returned, and requests to interview the executives were declined through McElhannon.

The case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the FBI and the Offices of the Inspectors General from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

According to the release, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

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