Eddie Cooper, former legislator, pleads guilty to kickback conspiracy | Arkansas Blog

Monday, February 12, 2018

Eddie Cooper, former legislator, pleads guilty to kickback conspiracy

Posted By on Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 5:46 PM

EDDIE COOPER
  • EDDIE COOPER
Eddie Wayne Cooper, 51, who served three terms as a Democratic state representative from Melbourne, has pleaded guilty in Springfield, Mo., to participating in a conspiracy to embezzle more than $4 million from a nonprofit health care agency.

Cooper had been identified in December as an uncharged co-conspirator.

In today's plea deal, Cooper admitted that he conspired with executives of Preferred Family Healthcare to use its money for unlawful political contributions and lobbying, as well as benefit themselves. Cooper received at least $387,501 from a lobbying firm and $63,000 in kickbacks. He must forfeit that money.

Cooper served in the legislature from 2006 through 2011, then became a registered lobbyist. In 2009, he was hired as regional director for Preferred Family Healthcare and worked there until April 26, 2017.

Four others were mentioned but not identified by name in a federal information outlining the three scheme.  They included three residents of Springfield who've been executives of the nonprofit, identified as Persons 1, 2 and 3.  Another person, identified as Person 4, was Rogers resident who served as an executive for company operations in the state of Arkansas and operated two lobbying firms, also was named.

The conspirators had contributions to politicians and their campaigns reimbursed by the nonprofit, which the law governing 501c3 nonprofits prohibits.

The scheme here is similar to that outlined in the federal case in which former Republican Rep. Micah Neal has pleaded guilty and former Republican Sen. Jon Woods is awaiting trial in case in which they allegedly received kickbacks from government grants made to Ecclesia College. Lobbyist Rusty Cranford, who headed Decision Point, an affiliate of Preferred Family, has been identified in court documents as using company money for kickbacks in that case. He has not been charged in the Arkansas or Missouri cases.

From the release on Cooper:

In order to provide a veneer of legitimacy for the kickbacks paid to themselves and others, and to disguise the nature and source of the payments, conspirators caused the payments to be described in the records as business expenses, such as “consulting” and “training” services, and executed sham “consulting agreements.”

Part of the scheme involved $3 million in payments and kickbacks with a company identified in court documents as Lobbying Firm A, an Arkansas firm owned and operated by Person #4 that also employed Cooper as a lobbyist.

Preferred Family Healthcare paid Lobbying Firm A to provide lobbying and advocacy services. Cooper and others solicited the assistance of elected and appointed officials regarding legislative issues that impacted the charity, in particular matters involving the charity, and in steering grants and other sources of funding to the charity from 2010 through 2017. These funding sources included proceeds from the Arkansas General Improvement Fund. Preferred Family Healthcare paid Lobbying Firm A more than $3 million from 2010 to 2017. These checks were falsely classified as a consulting expense in the books and records of the charity, when in fact the checks were payments for lobbying services, including direct contact with elected and appointed public officials, and for kickbacks paid to Person #1. From 2010 through 2015, the plea agreement says, Person #4 paid $640,500 in kickbacks to Person #1 by way of checks, and on numerous additional occasions, paid kickbacks in cash.

Part of the scheme also involved nearly $1 million in payments and kickbacks with a Philadelphia, Penn.-based lobbying firm. Donald Andrew Jones, also known as “D.A.” Jones, 62,of Willingboro, N.J., pleaded guilty on Dec. 18, 2017, to his role in the conspiracy.


The full federal release is here

The mental health facilities of the nonprofits depended on significant funding from state governments — $180 million in 2016 alone from Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Cooper can be sentenced to five years on the charge.

The nonprofits merged into a new corporate entity, Alternative Opportunities. Continuing to operate are agencies that provide mental and behavioral health treatment and counseling, substance abuse treatment and counseling, employment assistance, aid to individuals with developmental disabilities, and medical services.

Cooper is the fourth state legislator accused of taking kickbacks from General Improvement Fund money. Former Republican Sen. Jake Files has pleaded guilty to divert GIF money from a construction project to his own use.

Millions in GIF money was sent at legislators' direction to general improvement fund projects around the state, including a number in which Rusty Cranford participated. No other allegations of kickbacks or bribes have been made against other legislators, but suspicion has run high that more could be implicated.

The federal information against Cooper details his work to help the nonprofit with other legislators. Read on for nitty-gritty of the work of a legislator on the take, who had some friends helping, whether they received money as he did or not.

On February 22, 2010, Person #4 emailed Person #1 and Person #2 and courtesy copied Cooper, who was then an elected public official, and one other person, regarding an issue with bundled Medicaid billing and how they should approach it. The email states, in part, “We have placed Medicaid on the agenda for Public Health Committee, thanks to our very own Cooper and [“Arkansas Representative A” and one other person].”

On August 24, 2010, Cooper, while serving as an elected public official, emailed Person #4 letting him know he had heard from a source that the Governor was going to lift a moratorium on RSPMI [rehabilitative services for people with mental illness] providers, which would allow public schools to bill Medicaid.

Cooper further stated that source was, “…going to snoop around and see what he could find out.” Cooper then stated, “I really don’t know what he is looking for but I do have concerns about anyone snooping around our Medicaid contacts.” Person #4 forwarded this message from Cooper to Person #1, whose email response consisted of an expletive.

On October 24, 2010, Person #4 emailed “Arkansas Representative B,” asking about the meeting time for the RSPMI Policy Work Group, and stated that, “Rep. Cooper is on the
committee and he is carrying my vote to follow your lead.” Person #4 then forwarded the messageto Cooper stating, “Here it is.”

On October 20, 2010, Cooper emailed Person #4 scanned images of two items: a check written to a political candidate for $500, with the word “Donation” in the memo section; and a receipt from a restaurant in Texarkana, Arkansas, for $2,851.07, roughly half of which was spent on food and the other half on alcoholic beverages (115 separate drink items) and gratuity.

On October 22, 2010, Person #4 forwarded the email with the scanned items to Person #1, stating, “this is one of coopers.”

Also on October 20, 2010, Person #1 replied, via email, to Person #4 stating, “That one is going to be tough to pay out of AO. Can you send me a [Lobbying Firm A] bill for that and I will FedEx you a [Lobbying Firm A] check for about that amount or a little over. So it is the $500 plus the dinner receipt?”

Also on October 22, 2010, Person # 4 emailed Person #1, stating, “will do.”

On February 27, 2011, Person #4 emailed Cooper and Arkansas Representative A with the subject line, “GIF,” stating: Each of us divided up Members of the Legislature several weeks ago. I have all those Legislature that had us draft bills. We know the outlook of the House is not good. I need a report on everyone's Senator that has not had bills drafted and what Rep. [redacted] and [redacted] final word is for us.

We can meet at the office around 6:00 - 6:30 Monday evening at the office. In our report we have to draft for the Resource Team we have to know what each Senator final word is. We have froze all spending until we know where we are with the House.

Example:

(1) Senator [redacted] did not do a bill, but he has committed to adding funds to Senator [redacted] bill.
(2) Senator [redacted] will be adding funds to Senator [redacted] bill.

Will see you there.”

On October 10, 2011, Cooper emailed Person #4 and courtesy copied Person #2, Person #3, Person #5, and Person #12. Cooper provided an update regarding the potential lifting of the RSPMI moratorium and stated, “Arkansas has 243 school districts that could potentially operate their own RSPMI service if this policy is adopted” and, “[o]ne thing about this Draft that really troubles me is that they have included the Educational Service Cooperatives as a possible School Run RSPMI Provider.” Cooper also congratulated Person #12 for his/her being on the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health, and stated that the point of his email was to provide information to Person #12 before his/her first commission meeting.

On November 28, 2011, Person #4 emailed Cooper, Arkansas Representative A Arkansas Representative C, and courtesy copied Person #2, stating, “Please read through this info, this is what we can not [sic] have happen if they try to bring this to the Legislature.” The attached document, entitled, “Healthy Children = Successful Students,” discussed a proposal to permit the state’s Educational Service Cooperatives to bill as possible school-run RSMPI providers, providing health care services that could have competed with the Charity.

Person #4 told Cooper he/she “had good news and bad news.” The “good news” was that “we’ve picked up AO as a client,” meaning the Charity had retained Lobbying Firm A to provide lobbying services in Arkansas. The “bad news” was that Person #1 “wants half the money, he’s gonna lobby, so there’s no money in it for you,” meaning that Person #1 would get half of the Charity’s payments to Lobbying Firm A, and there would be no additional income to  Cooper from the arrangement.
You can read the whole information here.

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