JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Officials at a Missouri nonprofit organization accused of bribing Arkansas lawmakers also illegally used the charity’s money to funnel campaign contributions to Missouri politicians, according to a federal indictment.
Three former Republican Missouri lawmakers confirmed Friday to The Associated Press that they had participated in fundraisers and received campaign donations from people affiliated with the Springfield-based nonprofit Alternative Opportunities Inc., a provider of mental health and substance abuse services that has since merged with Preferred Family Healthcare Inc.
But former state Sen. Ryan Silvey, former state Sen. Bob Dixon and former state Rep. Ward Franz each said they didn’t know the nonprofit’s resources may have been used for the political fundraising, as alleged in the federal indictment released Thursday.
None of the Missouri lawmakers are accused of wrongdoing in the indictment, which targets former nonprofit executives Tom and Bontiea Goss and former Arkansas state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who is the nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The Gosses and Hutchinson have pleaded not guilty.
The indictment is the latest in a long-running investigation overseen by the U.S. attorney’s office in southern Missouri that already has resulted in several guilty pleas and convictions involving former nonprofit officials and Arkansas lawmakers. The details of the nonprofit’s involvement in Missouri politics are included in the indictment’s list of acts constituting an alleged conspiracy.
Federal law prohibits charitable organizations such as Alternative Opportunities from making contributions to or participating in political campaigns for candidates.
The indictment alleges that between 2013 and 2015, Alternative Opportunities illegally funneled $40,000 in contributions to the campaign of “Missouri Senator A” by passing the money through the Cranford Coalition, a lobbying firm affiliated with former charity executive Rusty Cranford. It also alleges that the charity paid for catering and other expenses for a Feb. 16, 2012, fundraiser for the same state senator.
The dates and dollar amounts mentioned in the indictment are similar to those listed in Silvey’s campaign finance reports.
Silvey told the AP that Tom Goss is his cousin and confirmed that Goss had helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Silvey’s political campaigns over the years.
But “I did not know that charity funds were being funneled to me,” Silvey said. “Tom and Bontiea Goss did host a fundraiser for me, but I had no idea they were diverting charitable funds to do it. That’s not something that I would have signed off on.”
Silvey, who now is chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, said Goss never asked him to do anything in exchange for the contributions. Silvey declined to comment about whether officials from the FBI or U.S. attorney’s office had spoken with him as part of the investigation.
The indictment also alleges that Alternative Opportunities paid the expenses for a fundraising reception held for “Missouri Senator B” on Sept. 7, 2010. Campaign finance reports indicate that Dixon received donations from Goss and Alternative Opportunities executive Marilyn Nolan around that same time.
Dixon, who now is the Greene County presiding commissioner, confirmed to the AP that officials from Alternative Opportunities hosted a political fundraiser for his previous Senate campaign.
But “I would be very surprised to learn that they were using charity funds,” Dixon said. He added: “They always seemed to be very upstanding people, and I never had any inclination that there was a quid pro quo of any kind.”
Dixon said he has not spoken with federal authorities as part of the investigation involving Alternative Opportunities.
The indictment also said that the charity’s board of directors held a meeting on March 15, 2012, in conjunction with a fundraiser for “Missouri Representative A, who was then a candidate for the Missouri State Senate.” Campaign finance reports show that Franz, who was running for the state Senate, received contributions from Bontiea Goss and Nolan around that same time.
Franz confirmed to the AP that Alternative Opportunities officials hosted a fundraiser for him and that he had served on the nonprofit’s board of directors. An Alternative Opportunities filing with the Missouri secretary of state’s office in March 2014 lists Franz as a board member, with an “Franzforsenate” email address.
Franz, who now is director of Missouri’s tourism division, said he didn’t think any charity resources were used for his political fundraiser and didn’t recall any discussions among Alternative Opportunities officials about reimbursing people for contributions to political candidates. Franz said he hasn’t spoken with federal authorities as part of the investigation.