JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- An annual FedEx package stuffed with checks provided Republican Ryan Silvey of Kansas City with some of his largest campaign donations when he served in the Missouri Senate.
For example, on a single day in 2014, six donors sent a combined $49,500. Some of the donors had funny names, like White Dog Asset Holding LLC. Missouri imposed no limits on campaign contributions at the time.
The man responsible for the packages, according to Silvey, was Tom Goss, then the chief financial officer of a Springfield, Mo.-based nonprofit named Alternative Opportunities Inc. The nonprofit provided mental and behavioral health services in five states, including Arkansas and Missouri.
Silvey said Goss had offered to raise money for Silvey's campaign by "bundling" contributions. Over the next four years, Silvey would receive more than $170,000 from the nonprofit's executives and for-profit subsidiaries.
That was over 10 times more than any other Missouri politician received in campaign cash from that group, according to FollowTheMoney.org, a database maintained by the National Institute on Money in Politics. It was six times more than any Arkansas candidate received.
That bonanza has turned into political baggage for Silvey, now serving as Missouri's top utility regulator.
No one has accused Silvey of any wrongdoing, but five of his campaign donors with ties to Alternative Opportunities have been convicted in a still-unfolding public corruption investigation, prosecuted by U.S. attorneys in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
Those donors include Marilyn Nolan, the former Alternative Opportunities CEO, who gave $8,500 to Silvey's campaign, and Milton "Rusty" Cranford, the nonprofit's Arkansas director and a former lobbyist, who gave at least $48,000.
According to Nolan's plea agreement, the nonprofit used "straw donors" to mask illegal campaign contributions. The donors -- Alternative Opportunities employees and lobbyists -- made political contributions that were reimbursed by the nonprofit, in violation of federal law.
Nolan pleaded guilty to conspiracy to embezzle from the nonprofit and agreed to pay $4.1 million in restitution.
'I'M YOUR COUSIN'
Interviewed in his office at the Missouri Public Service Commission in Jefferson City, Silvey, the commission's chairman, said he was never asked to do anything for Alternative Opportunities or its successor, Preferred Family Healthcare, such as steer government grants to them, as Arkansas officials have admitted doing.
There's a simple explanation for why he attracted so much money from the nonprofit's executives, Silvey said, and it goes back to when Goss introduced himself to Silvey at a campaign fundraiser in Liberty, Mo., in the run-up to the 2012 election.
"He said, "You don't know me but I'm your cousin," Silvey recalls. "And I took a picture with him and showed my dad. And he started telling me about the family connection."
That connection was a colorful one.
William "Pistol Bill" Silvey, who served as marshal of Seymour, Mo., into his 90s, was Ryan Silvey's great-great-grandfather and Goss' great-grandfather, Ryan Silvey said. The family had split into northern Missouri and southwestern Missouri branches, Silvey said. Thus, he said he and Goss had never crossed paths.
"He told me we were family and the family had seen me in the news, and that's how I got on their radar," Silvey said.
After that, Goss usually delivered campaign contributions in an annual FedEx package, Silvey said.
According to Nolan's plea agreement, Goss and Nolan also co-hosted a fundraiser for "Missouri Senator A" on Feb. 16, 2012. The nonprofit's corporate credit card was used to cover the reception's expenses. Federal law bans tax-exempt nonprofits like Alternative Opportunities from making campaign contributions.
Silvey, who hasn't been charged or implicated in any crimes, reported receiving at least $14,500 from Alternative Opportunities-related executives that same day, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.
Silvey said he was stunned when he read news accounts detailing accusations of bribery, kickbacks and unlawful campaign contributions at his cousin's former operation. The nonprofit's board fired Goss and other top executives earlier this year.
"It's shocking what's been alleged down there and obviously, if that's all proven to be true, then it's very disturbing and they should be held to account for it," Silvey said. "I was unaware of any of those activities."
One of Silvey's earliest victories in the Missouri Legislature -- passage of "fee office reform" in 2009 -- did end up benefiting Alternative Opportunities. But Silvey said he "didn't even know who they were at that time."
Silvey was a Missouri House member when he sponsored that bill, which aimed to get patronage politics out of the operation of offices where Missourians renew their driver's licenses and register their vehicles. Busy offices generate big profits for the operators, who receive a fee for each transaction.
Silvey's bill required the state to seek bids and gave preference to nonprofits to run the offices.
Shortly after Silvey's bill was enacted, Alternative Opportunities won at least 10 license office contracts, though some were later re-bid because the nonprofit had failed to disclose its financial ties to a for-profit management company.
Silvey went on to become the Missouri House Budget Committee chairman in 2011. He was never asked to help Alternative Opportunities win state contracts, he said.
If he had been asked, it wouldn't have mattered, he said, because "those are handled by the administration, and ... I fought with every governor I served under. So, me asking for a contract would probably not have gotten anywhere anyway."
After moving to the Senate, Silvey championed expanding Medicaid, which could have helped Alternative Opportunities and its successor, Preferred Family Healthcare. But Silvey's expansion plan never got off the ground because of GOP opposition.
Steve Harter, a former Alternative Opportunities executive, pointed to Silvey's record of advocating for people with disabilities as the reason he drew donations. Harter gave $1,250 to Silvey's campaign between 2012 and 2015.
"We did a lot of work with people who were intellectually disabled, and he was supportive of that," Harter said. Goss mentioned that Silvey was his cousin, Harter said, but never pressured him to make a donation. "It was optional," Harter said.
Neither Goss nor his wife, Bontiea, the nonprofit's former chief operating officer, have been charged with any crimes, though federal court documents implicate them in several schemes to loot the nonprofit.
Attorneys for the Gosses said in earlier statements that the accusations are false. An attorney for Tom Goss did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment about their inquiry.
"It is an ongoing investigation, but we're not in a position to make any comments about the investigation or any potential new defendants or new charges coming out of the investigation," said Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City.
Information for this article was provded by Eric Besson and Lisa Hammersly of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
SundayMonday on 12/02/2018