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Charlie Green, who oversaw Arkansas' publicly funded mental health services until early 2017, filed a lawsuit Monday against the troubled nonprofit that hired him -- Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. of Springfield, Mo. -- claiming he's owed more than $500,000.

Preferred Family was one of the biggest behavioral health care service providers in the state before federal authorities accused state legislators and others of taking part in a bribery scheme to pass laws and provide grant money to help the company.

On June 29, the state suspended Medicaid payments to Preferred Family, and the state Department of Human Services began terminating its contracts.

Green's lawsuit, James C. Green vs. Preferred Family Healthcare Inc., says the former Arkansas official signed a three-year contract on Jan. 12, 2017, to serve as an officer of the nonprofit organization.

He was to earn $250,000 per year, plus a 2.5 percent cost of living increase, fringe benefits and bonuses.

The contract required Preferred Family to have "cause," usually defined as gross misconduct, to terminate his employment, the suit said.

Sometime in 2017, the U.S. attorney's office contacted Green concerning "a criminal investigation it was conducting of PFH representatives" and interviewed him, the lawsuit says.

After that interview, Green "learned of possible unlawful campaign contributions by a PFH official and reported this activity in September 2017" to the federal prosecutors.

A day later, Green's supervisor, Bontiea Goss, notified him "for the first time that she was concerned abut his 'management style,'" the suit says.

On Jan. 9, 2018, the company "notified Green of its decision to terminate the agreement" about two years early, according to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The company didn't fire him for cause, but for "irreconcilable differences between [Green] and the state of Arkansas," alleging the differences "made it impossible for him to complete his responsibilities," the complaint says.

As Green left his state job, the Arkansas Department of Human Services wrote Preferred Family on Jan. 26, 2017, about Green's "ongoing obligations" under state law "with regard to potential conflicts of interest and ethical standards governing former state officials and employees," according to state records.

The two-page letter by the department's chief counsel, David Sterling, said former employees can't "act as a principal or agent for anyone other than the state in matters which were within the former employee's official responsibility." The state normally looks for a 12-month "cooling off" period when a state employee leaves for the private sector, he wrote.

The letter notes that "there are many aspects of PFH's current operations that are within Dr. Green's former official responsibilities" as director of the Division of Behavioral Health Services.

Sterling noted the law doesn't preclude former employees from accepting employment in the private sector: "We merely bring this to your attention to make you aware that certain measures must be taken in how Dr. Green's functional role is structured over the next 12 months...."

The lawsuit says Green, an Alexander resident, hasn't been paid since Jan. 31, 2018, and it seeks the remainder of his contractual compensation.

Green and his attorney, John Coulter, declined comment.

A spokesman for Preferred Family Health said in an email: "While Preferred Family Healthcare does not agree with the assertions in Mr. Green's filing, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time on a personnel matter; therefore, we will provide any responses through the legal process."

The FBI's investigation into the bribery scheme is ongoing. The public learned of it in January 2017, when former state Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.

Three more former legislators have pleaded guilty or been convicted in connection with a bribery scheme involving state grants or favorable legislation for Preferred Family Healthcare or its subsidiaries.

A jury found former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, guilty in the same kickback case that involved Neal.

Former Reps. Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne and Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff, also pleaded guilty.

Longtime state Capitol lobbyist Rusty Cranford, an employee of Preferred Family, has pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges.

Metro on 08/14/2018

Print Headline: Nonprofit in bribery case sued for pay

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