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Ex-Arkansas legislator pleads guilty in local charity scheme

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Former Arkansas state Rep. Eddie Cooper pleaded guilty yesterday to his role in a $4 million embezzlement scheme related to illegal political kickbacks from a Springfield charity.

Cooper becomes the second person, after Philadelphia political consultant Donald Andrew Jones, aka D.A. Jones, to admit they were participants in the scheme involving Springfield-based Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. At the local nonprofit, Chief Operations Officer Bontiea Goss, her husband and company Chief Financial Officer Tom Goss, and CEO Marilyn Nolan have been implicated in the scheme. However, a news release only identifies them by their occupational titles with the charity. Another co-conspirator is identified in court documents as a PFH executive and lobbyist from Rogers, Arkansas, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting. They have not been charged.

Cooper, 51, of Melbourne, Arkansas, waived his right to a grand jury before pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to embezzle from PFH, according to the release from the office of Timothy Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

An Arkansas representative from 2006 through January 2011 and a registered lobbyist with the state starting in 2011, Cooper admitted he accepted charity funds from PFH executives in exchange for political influence, including the steering of grants and other funding to the charity.

While working for the Rogers, Arkansas, co-conspirator’s lobbying firm, Cooper also was a board member and regional director at PFH. While working at the lobbying firm, according to the guilty plea, he received at least $387,501 from the firm and $63,000 in kickbacks. PFH executives directed $3 million in payments and kickbacks to the Arkansas lobbying firm, according to the release.

By pleading guilty, Cooper agreed to forfeit his profits from the scheme to the government. He could face five years in federal prison without parole under federal statutes, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

In December, Jones pleaded guilty to accepting nearly $1 million from PFH for the purpose of illegal lobbying and political activity benefiting the nonprofit. 

SBJ previously reported the three local PFH executives are on unpaid administrative leave. Bontiea Goss sent a statement through Kansas City criminal defense law firm Morgan Pilate LLC denying 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,” the statement reads.

PFH was formed through the 2015 merger of Alternative Opportunities Inc. in Springfield and Preferred Family Healthcare in Kirksville. It 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.

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