A former Preferred Family Healthcare clinic in Morrilton in 2018

A federal judge sentenced Tommy Ray Goss, who with his wife headed a behavioral health care charity at the center of a sprawling bribery scandal spanning Arkansas and Missouri, to six years in prison on Thursday. The sentencing hearing was in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri.

U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes also ordered Goss to pay a $350,000 fine. Goss is to report to prison June 10. The judge indicated he will decide on restitution later.

Advertisement

Tommy Goss was the chief financial officer of Preferred Family Healthcare, a nonprofit based in Springfield, Missouri, that once operated more than 40 sites across Arkansas. His wife, Bontiea Bernadette Goss, was its chief operating officer.

The health care organization once operated more than 40 sites across Arkansas, providing treatment and counseling for mental health and substance abuse, as well as other services. The Gosses and others at Preferred Family Healthcare conspired to bribe legislators and state officials in Little Rock to keep state Medicaid money flowing to the nonprofit.

Advertisement

A separate sentencing hearing for Bontiea Goss began Thursday in Kansas City and is to resume Monday morning.

Tommy Goss pleaded guilty in September 2022 to a conspiracy charge and to aiding in preparation of false tax returns. Bontiea Goss pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge that could carry a federal sentence of five years in prison, though she could get less time for admitting the crime.

Advertisement

Since the federal government began charging people in the Preferred Family Healthcare scandal more than five years ago, there have been more than 20 guilty pleas and convictions.

Among the Arkansans convicted are former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, a nephew of former Gov. Asa Hutchinson and son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson; former state Sen. Jon Woods; former state Sen. Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV; former state Rep. Micah Neal; and lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford. Jeremy Hutchinson and Jon Woods remain in prison.

Advertisement

Two defendants from Arkansas are among those still awaiting sentencing in the scandal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti said Wednesday. They are Robin Raveendran and former state Rep. Eddie Joe Cooper of Melbourne.

Raveendran, a former Arkansas Department of Human Services official and former executive of Preferred Family Healthcare, admitted that he participated in a conspiracy to bribe Jeremy Hutchinson in order to influence and reward Hutchinson in exchange for the then-legislator taking action favorable to Preferred Family Healthcare and its executives, according to a news release at the time from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri. Raveendran, of Little Rock, pleaded guilty in 2019 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Advertisement

Cooper pleaded guilty in 2018 to one count of conspiracy to embezzle from Preferred Family Healthcare. In so doing, he admitted that he conspired with several of the charity’s executives to use the charity’s funds for unlawful political contributions, for excessive, unreported lobbying, and to benefit themselves financially.

Here’s some more background on the Goss cases from our reporting in January:

Advertisement

In her plea agreement, Bontiea Goss acknowledged the government could prove that she hired Jeremy Hutchinson, then a state senator and now a federal prisoner, as an outside attorney. She agreed that she paid him to do legal work and to use his legislative position to obtain benefits for Preferred Family Healthcare. She agreed to joint restitution with her husband of up to $4.3 million, subject to the court’s determination.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, Preferred Family Healthcare agreed in 2022 to pay more than $8 million in forfeiture and restitution to the federal government and the state of Arkansas under the terms of a non-prosecution agreement, in which the charity admitted the criminal conduct of its former officers and employees. Preferred Family Healthcare’s website says it still operates dozens of locations in Missouri and Oklahoma, but no longer in Arkansas. …

Bontiea Goss hired Hutchinson, a nephew of then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson, on the recommendation of another key figure in the bribery scandal, lobbyist Rusty Cranford. Cranford, who also worked as an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare, wielded his influence at the Capitol to shape rules and regulations that affected the behavioral health industry.

Tommy Goss acknowledged that the government could prove that he conspired with Cranford to provide money to then state Sens. Jon Woods and Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, a preacher, in return for official actions. Cranford paid cash to Woods, hired Woods’ girlfriend and sent cash to Wilkins’ church.

Under the tax charge, which carries a maximum sentence of three years, the government accused Goss of reporting about $1.5 million income in 2013 when it was materially more.