Friday, October 3, 2014

Steven B. Jones, former legislator and DHS official, pleads in federal bribery case

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 12:16 AM

PLEADS TO BRIBERY: Steve B. Jones, former legislator.
  • PLEADS TO BRIBERY: Steve B. Jones, former legislator.
I'm too far removed by time and distance to add elaboration, but I noted this significant release from the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock — guilty plea by  Steven B. Jones of Marion, a former Human Services Department official and former legislator, on a federal bribery charge:

A former deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS), a multi-billion dollar state agency, pleaded guilty today for providing official assistance in exchange for bribes from the owner of two mental health companies.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and First Assistant United States Attorney Patrick C. Harris of the Eastern District of Arkansas made the announcement.

Steven B. Jones, 49, of Marion, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to a two-count information charging him with conspiracy and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 2, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson of the Eastern District of Arkansas.

According to his plea agreement, Jones served as deputy director of ADHS from approximately April 2007 until July 2013. While serving in that capacity, Jones solicited and accepted multiple cash payments and other things of value from the owner of two businesses that provided inpatient and outpatient mental health services to juveniles. This individual provided the cash payments and other things of value to Jones through the use of two intermediaries, a local pastor and a former county probation officer and city councilman.

As part of his plea, Jones admitted that in return for the bribes, he provided official assistance, including providing internal ADHS information about the individual’s businesses. Jones further admitted that he and other members of the conspiracy concealed their dealings by, among other things, holding meetings at restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee, or rural Arkansas, where they would not be easily recognized; funneling the cash payments through the pastor’s church; providing the bribe payments in cash so that the transactions would not be easily traceable; and speaking in code during telephone conversations.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Little Rock Field Office, and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patricia S. Harris and Angela S. Jegley of the Eastern District of Arkansas. 

We'll be interested, of course, in who was paying the bribes to get patients in the government-subsidized treatment programs. Jones, in addition to being a former Democratic legislator, was a state appointee to the Delta Regional Authority. He'd worked after leaving DHS, according to this resume, at a development bank and in his own government consulting firm. He resigned from the Southern Development Bancorp about two weeks ago, the AP reported.

I can add that the business of treating juveniles for mental health reasons is enormous and the millions spent (primarily in federal dollars) have been a cause of recurring tension, intense lobbying and occasional investigations. Some of the Times' previous work in this field has touched on reports that bad actors in the field used workers in local courts to steer business. In years past, Arkansas spent a disproportionate amount on more expensive residential treatment, too, as compared with much larger states. But it's uncertain whether this is a factor in the Jones case.

UPDATE:

Here's the statement from DHS:

The Department of Human Services takes seriously the trust the public places in this agency. So we were extremely disappointed to learn today that a former senior official illegally shared sensitive information. DHS fully cooperated with the FBI during the investigation, but the agency was unaware of the specific allegations until today. We will continue to hold our employees to the highest ethical standards and will review the details of this situation to determine if we need to take additional action.

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