Revealed:

 Senator Cecile Bledsoe Continues to Game the System

EPISODE ONE:  DISREGARDING NEPOTISM LAW IS RARELY THIS LUCRATIVE – THE HIRING OF HER HUSBAND & PERPETUAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST

 

FACT #1:  Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence over others of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.  

 

FACT #2: Arkansas’ anti-nepotism law makes it illegal for any person whose spouse is a constitutional officer (such as a State Senator) to “enter into employment with any state agency…” during the entire term of the Senator’s term of office.

 

FACT #3:  However, Arkansas law allows an exception if a select group in the government decides to give a waiver of the prohibition.

 

FACT #4:  In blatant disregard for the protections intended for all of Arkansas’ citizens, the Bledsoes took full advantage of that exception.  Cecile Bledsoe’s husband, Dr. James Bledsoe (who had already retired from his practice of medicine in Rogers) was hired by the Arkansas Department of Health in February 2015 for a part-time position, while inexplicably failing to advertise the position for which others could compete.  A select group of friendly legislators and the executive branch gave the “green light”.

 

FACT #5:  In further demonstration of her willingness to engage in self-serving conduct, Senator Bledsoe gave support for the Department of Health’s decision to promote her husband, Dr. James Bledsoe, to a full-time position at a meeting of the Legislative Council on November 18, 2016 at a rate of pay of $179,000.00 (which has just recently been increased to over $182,000.00).  Again, her legislator friends gave their approval (or were reluctant to state their disapproval – with the exception of two brave legislators who ABSTAINED on the record). Senator Bledsoe failed to abstain on the record from this vote.

 

FACT #6:  In direct disregard of express Rules of the Senate and the Arkansas Ethics Commission, Senator Bledsoe failed, based on FOIA responses received from the Director of the State Senate and Arkansas Ethics Commission, to file a written public notice of the potential (real in this instance) for her as Senator to have a conflict of interest in her role as Chair of the Senate’s powerful Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.  As Chair, she is the highest legislator of rank to provide oversight of her Husband Dr. James Bledsoe and his employer, the Department of Health. While the Department gave its required notice, Senator Bledsoe never has. Even Dr. James Bledsoe’s disclosures are inaccurate or incomplete (failing to answer questions that would have revealed that his and Senator Bledsoe’s son, Dr. Greg Bledsoe is a member of the Department of Health’s Board).  He was hired nevertheless.

 

FACT #7: In apparent disregard of the legislative public policy that seeks to avoid nepotism, there is no written record discovered through Freedom of Information Requests which would explain or offer any rationale for why the public good is being served by not allowing other doctors in the State to even apply for the lucrative position filled by Dr. James Bledsoe.

EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF  EPISODE ONE “FACTS” ABOVE:

Evidence #1:  Cambridge AND Other Dictionaries

Evidence #2 and #3:  Arkansas Code Annotated, Section 21-1-402(b). (page 1-3)

Evidence #4:  Letter of February 12, 2015 from Department of Health (which discloses that a discussion was first held with the Governor before the letter request was made) and that Dr. James Bledsoe’s hiring was motivated due to fact that Dr. Bledsoe “expressed his interest” and the Director received “nothing but enthusiasm” for the selection.  No one seems sensitive to the fact that the influence of Senator Cecile Bledsoe could wholly explain both, nor is there any discussion of why the Department is willing to put Senator Bledsoe (and all Arkansans) in a perpetual conflict of interest when it comes to providing oversight by her.  (page 4)

Evidence #5:  Letter of October 27, 2016 from Department of Health regarding desire to get full time position for Arkansas Trauma System.  (pages 5-6) Letter from Department of Finance and Administration of September 19 (dated September 21) advising the Compensation Plan Subcommittee that the Department of Health’s desire to hire Dr. James Bledsoe full-time violated Arkansas’ nepotism law, and then recommends approval. (page 7)  Letter of September 19, 2016 from the Governor gives his approval at a rate of pay of $179,698.34.  (page 8)  Letter of September 19, 2016 (the same date), Larry Walther of DF&A makes the same disclosure and request for approval. (page 9)  Minutes of the Legislative Council, November 18, 2016 (pages 910-19) and which documents the waver of nepotism approved with “abstaining” voters noted.(pages 18-19)  Cecile Bledsoe did not abstain.  Again, the written record is completely devoid of any concern as to how Senator Bledsoe is going to be able to be an effective Senator, while avoiding the naturally recurring conflicts she will face on many matters for which she now provides influence over the Department of Health and now her Husband.

Evidence #6:  On the April 28, 2015 “Employee Disclosure/Certification” form required by state law, Dr. Bledsoe incorrectly answers “NO” to question No. 4 which asks “Are you the spouse of a current Constitutional Officer (which is defined at the top of the same form as including a member of the General Assembly).  Had he answered “yes” the form would have mandated that he provide more information.  He also incorrectly answers “NO” to question No. 8 which asks, “Are you a relative of a state employee…?”  (pages 20-21) [The son of Senator Bledsoe and Dr. James Bledsoe had been previously hired as the State’s Surgeon General in 2014 according to public reports.]  (pages 22-24)  Had he answered correctly, he would have been required to answer further questions.  

On the September 16, 2016 “Employee Disclosure/Certification” form required by state law, Dr. Bledsoe again incorrectly answers “NO” to question No. 4.  As to question No. 8, he now correctly answers that he is the relative of a state employee, his son, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, who is Arkansas’ Surgeon General.  Inexplicably however, he goes on to answer “NO” to the question of “does this relative work within the state agency in which you are applying?” (pages 25-26) Factually, his son, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, is a member of the Board of the Department of Health (according to FOIA responses and news reports, earning as much as $238,000.00), Dr. Bledsoe’s employer. (pages 27-28).

 Dr. Bledsoe’s certification above his signature states that if he “falsely disclosed or failed to disclose” information, he can be subject to criminal, civil and/or administrative remedies.  (page 20 and page 25).
 
Senator Bledsoe’s presence at the November 18, 2016 waiver decision by the Legislative Council is documented by media (page 26-30) and fellow Senator accounts, for which she requested a per diem payment from the State. (page 26) The Rules of the Arkansas Ethics Commission explicitly define “family” to include spouse and children.  Prohibited legislative action means “introduction, sponsorship, consideration, debate, amendment, passage, defeat, approval, veto or any other official action or nonaction on any….” matter taken up by a legislative body.  Special privilege or benefit for family members is prohibited.  Section 400(d), (g) and (p). “No public servant shall use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure special privileges or exemption for himself or herself or his or her spouse, child…that is not available to others except as may be otherwise provided by law.” Section 402, Fair Treatment.  A legislator who may be financially impacted by any action taken in discharge of duties shall have an “obligation to report a potential conflict of interest under this section …as soon as the legislator is aware of the conflict.”  Section 405, Reporting.  (pages 31-38)  The Senate has comparable prohibitions and requirements.   See Rule 24 of the Senate, Code of Ethics.  (pages 39-47)  The Senate reports in a FOIA response that only several Senators have ever given such disclosure, none from Senator Bledsoe.  (pages 48-55)

In answer to a FOIA request that asked for “…copies of any “abstention noted on the record” by Cecile Bledoe…from January 1, 2011 to the present date, which record should also include the identity of the matter under consideration for which the abstention was given”, the Chief Counsel for the Senate responded simply, “Nothing filed”. (pages 56-57)

In answer to a FOIA request that asked whether Cecile Bledsoe or others had ever asked the Senate for an “Advisory Opinion” on where “the line” was as to potential conflicts of interest, the response from the Chief Counsel was that no such request was ever made. (pages 56-57)

Evidence #7:  See Evidence under Evidence #4 and #5 above.  There certainly were no exigent circumstances that were identified to explain a total failure to consider other applicants, equally qualified, who would not create an intolerable conflict of interest for Senator Bledsoe.  Consider that the first time the Legislative Council took up the matter of hiring Dr. Bledsoe was in May, 2015 (according to Legislative Council Agenda) (see page 61 of 58-64), yet the formal consideration did not occur until November of 2016.  Is it credible to believe that a lot of informal conversations with Senator Bledsoe as a participant did not take place between her, her husband, other legislators and members of the Department of Health?

EPISODE TWO:   CECILE BLEDSOE WANTS TO BE IN THE LEGISLATURE FOR 20 YEARS, TAKING FULL ADVANTAGE OF A JON WOODS-SPONSORED SCHEME

FACT #1:  The people of Arkansas have said more than once that they want substantial term limits on our state representatives.  In 1992, Arkansans voted for three two-year terms in the house, and two four-year terms in the senate. Then, in 2004 the voters soundly rejected an effort by the legislature to expand those limits.  Currently there may be a citizen-initiated Issue on the Ballot which will reinstate much of the older law. Had the original law remained intact, Cecile Bledsoe would already be term-limited. Her name would not be on the ballot this November.  What happened?

FACT #2:  Former Senator Jon Woods (and now convicted federal felon and an inmate of a federal prison), trumpeted a so-called “ethics” amendment to our Constitution in 2014.   Unknown to most voters, there was contained in it a very innocuous provision that referenced “establishing term limits” but did not inform the voter what was the actual impact.  Many assumed it imposed more stringent limits. In fact, it extended term limits and by reason of that fact alone Cecile Bledsoe is able to now seek 20 years in the legislature, rather than being term-limited at her current 16 years.  Many have asserted the ballot title was intentionally deceptive. Jon Woods and Senator Cecile Bledsoe insist otherwise.

 

FACT #3:  Did we get ethics reform?  On the face of it, legislators soon received a big pay raise of over 100% from the new commission formed for the purpose of shielding legislators from voting for their own pay raises.  Most of the so-called financial reforms are easily skirted. For example, you would think lobbyists were the community food-bank for legislators, they provide so many group meals in Little Rock which “get around” the new ethics rules.

 

What of individual conduct of legislators?  Senator Jim Hendren tells us that before Woods made his ethics push (with the full support of Senator Bledsoe and others), that Woods tried to bribe Hendren with an offer of a $10,000.00 payment.  Hendren declined but Woods never faced an ethics complaint in the Senate. Since then, the following legislators are on their way to prison or will be soon, having been convicted of federal felonies: Jon Woods, Jake Files, Micah Neal, Hank Wilkins and Eddie Cooper. Governor’s nephew Jeremy Hutchinson facing indictments.

 

Soon to be head of the Senate, Jim Hendren says the Senate has a culture of corruption that needs to be cleaned up.  Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, Republican, says he understands why some people would want to shorten terms in light of the recent convictions and negative headlines of five former legislators related to corruption charges.

FACT #4:  What does the future hold?  U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas says that more federal legislator indictments are expected.  On October 11, 2018 Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says, “We are currently investigating former legislators and legislators as part of our Medicaid fraud investigation…and [will] hold them accountable.”


FACT #5:  Voters can say NO to excessive terms for Cecile Bledsoe and by voting YES for Jon Comstock for State Senate, District 3 on November 6, 2018.  (Early Voting starts October 22).

EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF EPISODE TWO “FACTS” ABOVE:


 

EVIDENCE #1:  Democrat Gazette on-line article by Brenda Blagg of 8/8/2018 “Term limits redux”.  (pages 1-2)

 

EVIDENCE #2:  HJR 1009 of 2014 which has a lengthy title ending with the words “and establishing term limits for the members of the general assembly.” (pages 3-24)

 

EVIDENCE #3:  “Arkansas Senator says former state lawmaker sought bribe”, Democrat Gazette, 9/4/18. (pages 25-26).  “Arkansas Senate’s Hendren focused on ethics”, Democrat Gazette, 3/12/18 (pages 27-30). Hendren says “It is really going to involve a lot of training and discussions with the members about what the expectations are and what the culture needs to be…It is going to have to be beginning to build that culture up, what the expectations and what the potential pitfalls are.” (page 30).  “Arkansas Senate Approves Changes to Ethics Rules”, KARK.com of 6/19/18, where Hendren states, “We’ve got to start taking concrete action to right the ship.” (pages 31-32). David Ramsey writing in the Arkansas Times described things this way, “At various times over the last five years, Arkansas’ government was taken hostage by a criminal enterprise”. (page 33-34). For short list of up to 13 people of have pleaded guilty or are charged as of 9/2/18 (pages 35-36), though the list has grown by several new members since then.  [Question: Do you think these folks need remedial training that stealing is wrong? And did you know that the State Senate’s Ethics Rule 24 only allows other Senators to file an ethics complaint against a fellow Senator? In its entire history only one such complaint has been filed and that was about 20 years ago.] (See support documents for Senate Rule24 in Episode 1 – Nepotism).

 

EVIDENCE #4:  “We are currently investigating former legislators and legislators as part of our Medicaid fraud investigation, “ Attorney General Rutledge has recently stated, Democrat Gazette of 10/11/18. (pages 37-38).  U.S. Attorney Dak Kees sasys that, “We know that multiple bribes have been paid. It is in the best interest of those who know about them to come to the authorities and cooperate….[if you] come forward immediately and truthfully do what the government asks – even if it hurts you economically – you will be rewarded for it, Kees told the Federal Judge sentencing Micah Neal that this was the message he wanted others to hear today, Democrat Gazette, 9/14/18. (pages 39-42)

EPISODE THREE: DOES CECILE BLEDSOE MEET RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT?

FACT #1: Arkansas’ Constitution in Article 5, Section 4 mandates that any person who wants to be a State Senator for District 3 of Benton County must have been a resident for the past year before the November 6, 2018 election (i.e. as of November 2017) and remain a resident of District 3 during the term of office.

 

FACT #2: There is a question about where Senator Cecile Bledsoe’s “residence” may be. She maintains a house in Rogers, Arkansas. However, as of May 2018, she has acquired another “home” in Little Rock for which she and her husband have paid over $300,000.00. Mortgage documents reveal that the Little Rock residence is a “home”, not an investment property. It is contractually prohibited for the Bledsoes to use the property for any other purpose than their home. They may not rent or lease it out during the terms of the Mortgage. Additionally, Pulaski County records reflect a Homestead Exemption claim has been noted for the Little Rock property.

Residence is generally defined by the legal tests of domicile or statute. A domicile is generally recognized as the place where you have your true, fixed, home. To determine domicile, courts will review the use and maintenance of the two homes and examine how one fits into the communities. Consideration will be given to where a person actually works and how much time is actually spent at one location or the other. There is also a qualitative test which considers the location of one’s extended family and even perception of others seen on a regular basis. Courts will look at multiple additional facts, such as homestead exemption claims, to reach a conclusion based on a consideration of all relevant factors.

 

FACT #3: It is understood and believed that Cecile Bledsoe spends the majority of her time at the new home in Little Rock (or the rent-controlled apartment she is able to lease from the Secretary of State at $370.00 below-market-rate per month, with utilities paid, plus cable, with a lease expiration date of November 30, 2018). Dr. James Bledsoe, her husband, is understood to live in Little Rock the majority of the time at the same apartment provided by the Secretary of State or their new home in Little Rock. It is understood their two sons (Dr. Greg Bledsoe and Dr. Sam Bledsoe) and their families also live full time in Little Rock.

FACT #4: Senator Bledsoe has failed to publicly make any statements on the subject of her residence.

EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF EPISODE THREE “FACTS” ABOVE:

EVIDENCE #1: § 4. Qualifications of senators and representatives.

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative who, at the time of his election, is not a citizen of the United States, nor any one who has not been for two years next preceding his election, a resident of this State and for one year next preceding his election, a resident of the county or district whence he may be chosen. Senators shall be at least twenty-five years of age, and Representatives at least twenty-one years of age.” Arkansas Constitution, Article 5, Section 4.

EVIDENCE #2: Warranty Deed for “home” in Pulaski County, dated May 31, 2018 and Real Estate Transfer Tax Stamp. (pages 1-3)

Purchase Money Mortgage of same date (pages 4-25), wherein it is stated that “Borrower shall occupy, and shall only use, the Property as Borrower’s second home. Borrower shall keep the Property available for Borrower’s exclusive use and enjoyment at all times, and shall not subject the property to any timesharing or other shared ownership arrangement or to any rental pool or agreement that requires Borrower either to rent the Property or give a management firm or any other person any control of the occupancy or use of the Property.” (page 24).

Though a “homestead” parcel claim was noted on the Rogers’ home, the Pulaski County home also makes a notation as a “Homestead parcel”. (pages 26-30).

EPISODE FOUR:   BREAKING NEWS ABOUT ISSUE 1 - BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, SENATOR CECILE BLEDSOE AGREES TO DEVALUE SANCTITY OF LIFE, HAND-CUFF JURIES, NULLIFY PRIVATE CONTRACTING AND TO SURRENDER YOUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF JUSTICE TO SPECIAL INTERESTS AND LOBBYISTS

FACT #1:  Cecile Bledsoe, with 16 years in the Legislature, is the most senior member of the Legislature.  That puts her in a position from which courageous leadership for the benefit of the general public’s welfare should be expected.  What has she done with it lately, except take campaign funds from businesses who want more than anything to prohibit citizen juries from holding them accountable for their wrongdoing.  

 

FACT #2:  Issue 1 was approved in the Legislature as Senate Joint Resolution 8.  Cecile Bledsoe was a leading Senate sponsor of the measure.

FACT #3:  News Alert.  Though Issue 1 seeks to amend our Arkansas Constitution in substantial ways, it came about through secrecy and deception.  At a recent public forum held at NWACC in Bentonville, with news outlets present to document, it was disclosed by a Republican Legislator that Cecile Bledsoe and sponsors of SJR 8 met with or communicated with each other in a secretive and covert manner, with the intent to preclude good-faith Republicans from learning of its contents since the ostracized Republicans were known to fiercely uphold the sanctity of life and checks and balances provided by our Constitution. These good-faith conservatives only became aware of Bledsoe and the cabal’s abhorrent work product when, without warning,  it “hit the floor of the Legislature for a vote”.

FACT #4:  What does Issue 1 seek to do?  First, it puts an arbitrary value on the sanctity of life by limiting juries’ ability to award fair and adequate compensation for pain and suffering and wrongful death.  Cecile Bledsoe and others in Little Rock say the maximum in any case should be $500,000.00 for non-economic damages. Second, it further limits juries’ ability to fully punish especially abhorrent wrongdoing in an amount determined adequate by a jury.  It seeks these limitations despite an absence of evidence that Arkansas juries can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Third, it tells injured parties that the State will control the fee agreement they can make with their attorney of choice, while allowing the alleged wrongdoer to spend as much as they want to defeat the payment of compensation to an injured party, even if the compensation is fairly owed. Fourth, it seeks to gut our Founding Fathers’ legacy of a stable government resulting from three co-equal and independent branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.  Rather than rely on historical checks-and-balance, the Legislature, in what many have called a rank power-grab, seeks to take over ultimate rule-making authority of our entire Court system (which now rests with our Supreme Court), thereby making the Judicial Branch a sub-agency of the Legislature. Power and greed will dictate Court rules. Who has the most “silver” will control access to justice in the State of Arkansas. This is what Cecile Bledsoe offers constituents.


FACT #5:  A Circuit Judge has found Issue 1 to be unconstitutional.  Cecile Bledsoe supports wasting taxpayer funds fighting that outcome with an appeal.  Her political future depends on it.

EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF EPISODE FOUR – ISSUE 1 “FACTS” ABOVE:


 

EVIDENCE #1:  Sample excerpts of Cecile Bledsoe’s Itemized Monetary Contributions.  Almost all of her campaign contributions come from special interest groups, very little money from individual citizens. (pages 1-12)

 

EVIDENCE #2:  SJR8 – (front page) (page 14)

 

EVIDENCE #3:  Program flyer for event at NWACC, “Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 1: What Does It Say, What Will It Do, and Why Does It Matter?”  Moderator was University of Arkansas Professor (and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Panel Members were Chad Gallaher, Protect AR Families, R-Rep. Jimmy Gazaway and R-Rep. Jana Della Rosa.  (page 13). News outlets were present.

 

EVIDENCE #4:  Issue 1 (identified as SJR 8).  (Pages 14-20). Ballot Title (which is what will appear on the election ballot November 6, 2018. (Pages 19-20). Talking Points in opposition to Issue 1 (pages 21-24).  Excerpts from media regarding power grab: NWA Democrat Gazette, “NWA Editorial: A Power play”… “If you’ve never seen a power grab, take a look…This measure gives every appearance of a legislative take-over of the courts system.”  (pages 25-26). Guest writer, former Justice of Supreme Court, Annabelle Imber Tuck, “We must not turn the scales of justice over to the highest bidder.” (page 27). Editorial, “Political tugs-of-war: Branches of government struggle with checks, balances”…Issue 1 “is an unvarnished effort to consolidate more power within the hands of lawmakers...”  Separation of powers “is critically important to our form of self-government that no one branch of government manage to turn the other two into obedient observers.” (pages 28-29). Talking Points in support of Issue 1. (pages 30-31. (Note: Despite Randy Zook’s written comments, when I asked him on the phone to name a single example of a “run-away” jury, he was unable to.  When I asked him if the State Chamber had obtained the legal opinion of an unbiased Law Firm related to the potential harm to the judicial branch by Issue 1, he admitted that he had not done so.)

 

See Jerry Cox of the Family Council who explains how Issue 1 puts a price tag on human life.  He explains that the Council supports lawsuit reform but that Issue 1 is NOT the way to go. He cautions, “Some nursing home owners simply don’t want to spend the money necessary to provide quality care.  They cut staff, reduce services, compromise care and let people suffer. Most families have a story about a loved one who was neglected or mistreated in a nursing home. The fear of a lawsuit may be all that keeps some nursing homes in line.  Issue 1 removes that threat. If that goes away, our elderly nursing home residents will suffer even more.” (pages 28A and 28B).

My comments on this issue:  Issue 1 is anti-free enterprise and anti-capitalism. Article I, Section 10 of U.S. Constitution prohibits state government from “impairing the obligation of contracts…”.   Cecile Bledsoe wants you and I to control the costs of what she calls “greedy lawyers” by having the government nullify the ability of an injured party to enter into a contract with their attorney on whatever terms they believe is in their best interest.  Bledsoe does this while allowing the insurance companies and the wrongdoers to pay their attorneys unlimited sums of money to beat the injured parties in court.  Will Bledsoe next suggest that the way we control spiraling costs of healthcare in our state, is to restrict what the “greedy doctors” and “greedy nursing homes” and “greedy hospitals”  can charge their patients?  Considering that her husband is a doctor raking in a large income (thanks to you the taxpayer) from the State Department of Health and her two sons are doctors (both of whom you also pay large sums either as salary or indirectly from medicaid-paid charges), what do you think?  And let’s talk about the lawyers.  Do you realize that when they take a case on a contingency fee agreement (the agreement attacked by Issue 1), that the lawyer only gets paid a fee if a financial recovery is made for the injured party?  That is the case.  I wonder if Cecile Bledsoe can persuade doctors (her husband and two sons), nursing homes and hospitals to only charge a fee when the outcomes of surgery or treatment are successful?  I doubt it, don’t you.  Bottom line is that Cecile Bledsoe and her legislature cronies (so-called conservatives?) should get the government out of the business of telling people the fee agreement they can make with the professional of their choice.  It’s against free enterprise and is contrary to genuine conservatives values.


EXHIBIT #5:  Complaint For Issuance of Writ of Mandamus which attacks the Constitutionality of Issue 1 (pages 32-44) by asserting that, “This sweeping proposal undermines and violates the separation of powers and, therefore, it is inherently unconstitutional.” (page 35) And would “make the Judicial Branch into a subordinate state agency…”. (page 38).

ORDER of Circuit Court Judge of Pulaski County’s decision (pages 45-54) of September 6, 2018 finding Issue 1 unconstitutional for improperly containing too many independent subjects, contrary to Article 19, Section 22 of the Constitution of Arkansas which requires that proposed amendments “shall be so submitted as to enable the electors to vote on each amendment separately.”  (page 46).

 

Comstock letter of 9/7/18 to Senator Bledsoe asking her to acknowledge the inherent proper rational of the Circuit Court’s ORDER and to take steps to save the taxpayers from paying the costs of a needless appeal.  (pages 55-56) No response to this letter from Senator Bledsoe.

Episode Five is being presented in two parts due to volume of recently discovered material.  Here is Part 1 of Episode Five.  Expect the balance next week.

EPISODE FIVE, PART 1:  SENATOR CECILE BLEDSOE DROWNING IN CONFLICTS OF INTEREST – PUBLIC SERVICE TAKES BACK SEAT TO SELF INTEREST OF STATE’S MOST POWERFUL FAMILY

 

FACT #1:  A conflict of interest results when a person finds themselves with the power to make decisions or influence policy that affects family members, friends or business associates.  This then raises the question of “what really motivates” the person’s conduct, the public’s welfare or that of their family?  Good ethical advice would be that a person should avoid being in a conflict of interest situation whenever they can so that their judgment is not the subject of doubt and uncertainty. In the context of government, the voters are entitled to a representative devoted exclusively to the public’s best interest.  There should be zero tolerance of serious conflicts of interest for our government representatives. 

FACT # 2  The Bledsoe Family conducts itself as if they are above the normal codes of conduct that would seek to avoid and even prohibit conflicts of interest.  The Bledsoes seem to thumb their nose at the suggestion that conflicts of interest should be avoided in government whenever possible and expect us to ignore it as well.  Consider the following:

 

  1. The Bledsoes have been described as the most powerful family in Arkansas today.  No one can even remember when a single family had so much influence over the State’s health policy.   The question should be asked – Is this good for the State?

 

   2. Senator Cecile Bledsoe is the Chair of the Senate Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, considered one of the most important Committees in the                Legislature.

 

    3. In that role, Cecile Bledsoe provides the most senior legislative oversight of Arkansas’ health initiatives, including the Department of Health and the             Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees our Medicaid programs).

 

    4. The public policy of Arkansas says that it is illegal to hire the spouse of a State Senator – regardless of the position being considered.  But if any                    waiver were to be given, one would assume that the spouse would not work in the same area as the elected Senator. 

       Not so for the Bledsoes.

 

    5. Ethical standards in Arkansas and our State Senate urge that conflicts of interest should be avoided where possible, and at least otherwise disclosed.           They mandate that Bledsoe file a written report of known or potential conflicts.  She has not done so according to Freedom of Information responses

        we have received.

 

    6. Cecile Bledsoe gets her way.  After failing to abstain on the vote before the Legislative Council, she oversaw the hiring of her retired doctor husband (          Dr. James Bledsoe) by the Department of Health, only after obtaining a waiver of Arkansas’ nepotism law which otherwise made it illegal to

        hire him.  The waiver results from legislator approval with votes coming from legislators either intimidated by Senator Bledsoe or friendly to

        her, a similar issue recently highlighted in the news.  And just how much control does Dr. James Bledsoe exert over Cecile, his former office manager. 

        Before he was even hired by the State, he was injecting himself into our government.  See, https://youtu.be/ScvhkaQRaes.

 

  7. The Department asserts that they  “need” Dr. Bledsoe but they fail to offer a single written word to explain to fellow Legislators, the Governor or the             public, why they should not honor Arkansas’ anti-nepotism law?  How is the public’s best interest being served by a perpetual conflict of

      interest at this high level of government? Why not at least seek out and interview other doctor candidates? Be alerted to fact that this “position”

      being hired into did not exist but was created at the time by a realignment of responsibilities to create the Trauma group Dr. Bledsoe would work in. 

      Why create a circumstance whereby every decision Senator Bledsoe makes is subject to questioning as to her true motives? 

      Do I help the family – help my doctor husband – or help the general public?

 

  8. It doesn’t stop there.  Turns out that one of the Bledsoe’s sons (Dr. Greg Bledsoe) has served during this same period as Arkansas’s Surgeon General            (which pays him over $170,000.00 and who is also employed by the Arkansas Heart Hospital for an undisclosed amount – as much or more) and as a

     Board member of the Department of Health, the very department that his father has been hired into an executive role (and that Cecile provides

     oversight for).  When the Department has meetings, at times both Bledsoe father and son are there (and Cecile could be there as well).  There are

     times when her son or husband testify at a hearing she chairs.  See, https://youtu.be/Th71iPSvOLo  This is absurd.  While they understandably want to

     look out for each, who is looking out for the general public?  Even if they are well-intentioned, they cannot avoid doing their jobs without having

     conflicts of interest.  Human nature can’t be avoided.

 

   9. It doesn’t stop there.  Turns out that another doctor son (Dr. Sam Bledsoe), at least according to Cecile Bledsoe speaking at the only candidate forum           she has been willing to attend this entire campaign (Rogers/Lowell Chamber of Commerce),  was practicing in Texas but moved back to Arkansas

       to be closer to family and his brother.  How hard was it for him to find a job in competition with other doctors in the state?  Not hard at all.  He

      landed a plum job at the private Arkansas Heart Hospital (the same hospital that brother Dr. Greg Bledsoe works) in Little Rock as the only doctor

      on staff (at least according to their website: https://www.drsamuelbledsoe.com/about who does bariatric surgery – with a lot of Medicaid dollars

      going to the hospital for that procedure.  Arkansas’ Transparency website indicates almost a million dollars last year.  Nice work if you can get it. 

      Especially considering that the Heart Hospital’s so-called Bariatric Institute (which consists of Sam) didn’t exist until he got there.  The Department of            Health created a job to offer Cecile’s husband, and now the Heart Hospital creates a new service offering tailor-made for Dr. Sam Bledsoe. 

  10. But it doesn’t stop there.   Besides providing legislative oversight over the health and Medicaid policy of the State, turns out Cecile Bledsoe is

       involved with just about every committee that would have anything to do with the hiring of her husband and son, or paying Medicaid dollars to her

       sons’ employers, to setting salaries and even classifications of jobs.  She is member of the Legislative Council (the group that gave her the nepotism             waiver), Joint Budget Committee Special Language, the ALC-PEER and ALC-Review, whereby she exerts control over professional and consultant                 contracts, and multiple other Committees providing oversight of various aspects of our health care policy and government agencies.  And during the          entire time of Senator Bledsoe’s substantial conflicts existing , there has not been discovered a single record where she abstained or recused from

      voting on issues affecting her family, and she refuses to answer whether any ever made. (go to pages 72-78).

 

  11. It doesn’t stop there.  Bledsoe seeks to further shield herself from any accountability for conflicts of interest. Consider that right now there is a

        massive fraud and corruption scandal infecting our Legislature related to health care and some Medicaid providers.  Over 15 legislators or non-

        legislators have either pled guilty, been found guilty or are under indictment or investigation for the corruption (inclusive of Ecclesia College and/or           Preferred Family Health and its affiliates) that may exceed $30 million (and the U.S. Attorney Dak Kees tells us that more indictments are coming). 

       Cecile Bledsoe has relationships in the course of her duties with several of the culprits involved, and won’t deny as to others.  Would you not think it

       would be a good idea to have a law that requires Senator Bledsoe (and any legislator) to disclose whether they (or their family or business associate)

       have a conflict of interest relationship with a Medicaid provider before voting on a bill that impacts that provider?  In the last legislative session, Cecile         Bledsoe helped defeat a law that would have made that requirement.  Why?  What is she hiding?  When asked in a letter whether she or any family               member had actual business dealings with medicaid providers implicated in the scandal, she refused to answer.

 

   12. When we asked Cecile Bledsoe point blank (in a letter) to deny that she herself is the target of the medicaid investigation, she responds with total                 silence.  Even at the recent Rogers/Lowell Chamber of Commerce campaign forum, a perfect place to assert her innocence, she avoided the topic              altogether.  Why?

 

 What influences Senator Bledsoe’s vote?  Do you believe that the conflicts of interests she swims in daily can be called a swamp?  Drain the swamp.

EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF EPISODE FIVE, PART 1 – CONFLICT OF INTEREST – PUBLIC SERVICE TAKES BACK SEAT “FACTS”:

 

 

EVIDENCE #1:  Any dictionary or ethics manual.

EVIDENCE #2: 

 

  1. One commentator has observed, “…here in Arkansas there is a family monopoly on state public health policies.  The family actors who enter the stage are…Senator Cecile Bledsoe…(husband) Dr. Jim Bledsoe… (son) Dr. Greg Bledsoe”  (page 40).  At the time of the Husband’s hiring, one legislator had the foresight to ask, “But we’ve got three key people in the same family in high-level positions.  What are the safeguards as far as a potential conflict of interest given the overlapping relationship?”  It was clear from the response that no real thought has been given as to how to grapple with the conflict.  When asked if anyone were aware of a single family having so much influence – and being paid so much money by the state – the Governor’s office responded, “…I have no way of knowing”. (page42).  The question rightfully asked is “who is in charge” Cecile or her husband?  A surreal video shows her husband Dr. James Bledsoe at a time before he is even hired by the Department of Health – in any position – as if he is somehow lording over the very proceedings being Chaired by wife Cecile.  See video: https://youtu.be/ScvhkaQRaes

 

    2. Arkansas State Legislature website (page 1).

   3. Arkansas State Legislature website (pages 1-2).

   4. Arkansas Statute 21-1-402(b) provides in part (pages 3-5):  “No person whose spouse is elected to a constitutional office may, after the spouse is                  elected to the constitutional office and during the term for which the spouse is elected, enter into employment with any state agency without the

      prior approval of the Joint Budget Committee during the legislative session, the Legislative Council between legislative sessions, and the Governor.”          (page 4).

 

   5. Arkansas Ethics Commission, Rules on Conflicts (pages 6-13) and Senate Rule 24’s Code of Ethics (pages 14-18).  Freedom of Information response              from the Senate’s Chief Counsel, Answer to Question seeking evidence of any “abstention on the record” by Bledsoe, “Nothing filed.” (pages 19-20).          Cecile Bledsoe has never filed a public notice of even a potential for conflict of interest as required by both.

  6. See Evidence, Episode One – Nepotism.  One Senator abstained on the record, expressing concern about the role of “one family” in state                            government.  (page 42).  Also, note relevant comments of NWA Democrat Gazette Editorial (go to pages 62-63) regarding “Lawmakers’ cozy loans

      should be prohibited”.  Comments of warning should that warrant the attention of any legislator:  “Lawmakers would do well to behave so far beyond

      any question of disreputable actions that their honor would remain not only intact, but unquestioned”….. The thing is Arkansans deserve lawmakers

      who are completely dedicated to representing them, not spending their time ensuring the bond of fraternal brotherhood among members is

      preserved.”  Nor I would add, assuring that the family interests are taken care of.  “The you-rub-my-back – I’ll rub-yours atmosphere of Arkansas’ state         government is already strong.”  It needs to end.  “Arkansas lawmakers in many cases seem to look for ways to ethically compromise themselves.”  For         instance, waiving one of the most substantial conflicts of interest one could imagine in state government, where no public emergency required it.

  7. Department of Health’s letter of 2/12/15 when seeking a waiver to hire Dr. Bledsoe part-time, makes clear that Dr. Bledsoe sought out the position (fair       to say with the knowledge and approval of Senator Cecile Bledsoe) and then was “walked around” to meet everyone (without any consideration given

     to interviewing candidates or avoiding a substantial conflict of interest that need not be endured by the public) (page 21).  Cecile insists she didn’t get         involved, stating “Why would I? We are supposed to be retired.  We have 10 grandchildren.”  (go to page 38).  Department’s letter of 10/27/16 when           seeking to hire Dr. Bledsoe full-time, again no effort to interview other candidates, taking the Doctor from a salary of over $85,000.00 to over

     $171,000.00.  No acknowledgement that a conflict of interest could compromise the judgments of both Senator Bledsoe and Dr. Bledsoe.  Let’s just

    check-the-box and hire our most senior Senator’s husband – while she provides legislative oversight.  (pages 22-23).  The approvals from the

    Department of Finance and Administration and the Governor also demonstrate a total lack of concern for the nepotism/conflict issues. (pages 24-26). 

    The minutes of the Legislative Council meeting (attended by Cecile – and for which she did not abstain) also reflect a total lack of concern for the

    serious conflict of interest, with the proviso that two Senators (neither Cecile) did abstain out of concern. (pages 27-29). Documents confirming

    checking-the-box are completed incorrectly in multiple instances demonstrating that the decision to hire was already made.  (pages 30-34). Dr. James          Bledsoe answers under penalty of perjury that his son (Dr. Greg Bledsoe) for the State but not in the same state agency, despite fact that Dr. Greg

    is on the Board of the Department of Health.  Conflicts concealed.

 

  8. The son Dr. Greg Bledsoe was hired in 2014 by the Governor as Surgeon General and serves as a Board member of the Department of Health (the

       very Department that his father, Dr. James Bledsoe works in).  At the time, it was disclosed that UAMS would pay him $238,000.00 but questions as to

       how much more he would make for the Surgeon General role was not immediately disclosed.  (pages 35-36).  Now records show he is employed by             Arkansas Heart Hospital (pages 45-46).  Various Legislative agendas for committees, task forces or Board minutes of the Department of Health, show           repeated instances when Senator Cecile Bledsoe is present in her capacity as Chair of Health, Welfare and Labor, or as vice-chair of the Health Reform         Legislative Task Force with Dr. Greg Bledsoe present, Dr. James Bledsoe or another executive of the Department of Health. (pages 52-61).  See video

       with Dr. Greg Bledsoe testifying at hearing conducted by his Mother, Cecile:  https://youtu.be/Th71iPSvOLo

  9. Transparency website shows almost $1Million paid to Arkansas Heart Hospital for one year alone, which is not bad for an apparent one-man doctor               operation (Dr. Sam Bledsoe) (pages 50-51).  See link: https://www.ark.org/dfa/transparency/expenditures.php?                           ina_sec_csrf=5abc4dfde268b093fc21981a6cd8856c&do:expenditures&tab=byvendor

         Again, the Hospital offered many heart-related services (pages 47-49) but appears to have started offering bariatric surgery with the hiring of Dr. Sam             Bledsoe.Nice for the Bledsoe family.

   10. Arkansas Legislative website. (pages 1-2).

 

   11.  Senator Bryan King introduced Senate Bill 175, last session which would have required Cecile Bledsoe and others to disclose conflicts of interest with             Medicaid providers before voting on a bill that would impact them.  Title of the bill:  “An Act To Require Medicaid Providers and Government                      Officials To Disclose Conflicts of Interest and For Other Purposes”.  Senator Cecile Bledsoe voted against the bill and it was defeated in the 

          Legislature (pages 79-83).  King said he has challenged a culture of corruption at the Capitol where legislators do personal business with health care

          and Medicaid providers.  (page 64).  Just a sampling of the many persons – including legislators – caught up in the health care fraud and kickback

           scheme as noted a couple of months ago by the Democrat Gazette.  (pages 65-66).  Attorney General says “We are currently investigating” former             and current legislators, and the U.S. Attorney tells a Federal Judge that more indictments are coming.  (pages 67-72).  Comstock letter.  (pages 72-78).

 

    12.  Jon Comstock letter.  (pages 72-78).  When asked, “Do you or any family member or business associate benefit, directly or indirectly, from any                       Medicaid payments by or on behalf of the State during any part of the time period January 1, 2102 to the present date?”  She refuses to answer. 

           She was asked to provide the detail of her relationship to those persons and entities under Federal conviction, indictment or investigation and she

           refuses to answer.  (page 75)  Refuses to disclose the entirety of her relationship with Rusty Cranford and D. A. Jones (the former being a lobbyist at

           the heart of much of the scandal, along with Jones who was the subject of a murder-for-hire plot on the part of Cranford.  (page 75).  Cecile Bledsoe             refuses to confirm whether or not she has been interviewed by law enforcement or is the target of an investigation.  Refuses to answer whether she               has ever recused on a vote involving a family member. (page 76).  Bottom line is that she refuses to be transparent about her dealings and relations               with any of the persons or entities involved in the criminal corruption cases plaguing our Legislature.  (pages 72-78).

EPISODE FIVE, PART 2:  CECILE BLEDSOE’S CONTINUING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST AND SELF-DEALING

PART 1:  As a reminder to you, Part 1 of Episode Five was previously posted on our campaign website and sheds light on the substantial conflicts of interest that shadow every decision Senator Cecile Bledsoe makes in the legislature – as she attempts the impossible – to give the general public unwavering support, while looking out for the interests of her family of doctors.  As Chair of the Committee on Health she is charged with providing legislative oversight of her doctor husband and doctor sons who exert inordinate control over the State’s health policy. Here is a link to a video showing all three participating in a government function. (Dr. James Bledsoe and son Dr. Greg Bledsoe are at front of room, with Cecile off to right at “minute marker 1:55”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_ZB49bye2s

Say NO to these continuing and substantial conflicts of interest.

 

PART 2 is a continuation of Cecile Bledsoe’s quest for personal self-interest rather than public interest, and raises the question of “why” is Senator Bledsoe – age 74 – seeking another four year term.  Follow the money.

FACT #1:  Despite connections with the nursing home industry, which includes acceptance of at least $6,400.00 in campaign money from nursing home mogul Michael Morton over past years (remember, the guy implicated in the bribing of Judge Maggio in Conway) (and note that Governor Hutchinson also received money from Morton but returned it) and currently other medical and pharmaceutical providers, she seeks to protect them (and her husband and sons) from being held accountable for their neglect in providing care and medical treatment by being a key sponsor of Ballot Issue 1 (thankfully now stricken from November’s Ballot as unconstitutional by the Arkansas Supreme Court).

FACT #2:  Bledsoe has a handful of  individual persons contributing to her campaign.  Almost all of her money comes from PACs outside Northwest Arkansas making the maximum contribution allowed.  Almost all of Jon Comstock’s campaign funds come from individuals.

 

FACT #3:  With full confidence that the Bledsoe Family will continue to receive taxpayer paid compensation conservatively estimated at up to $500,000.00 or more per year (for her, her husband and son), and contemplating that taxpayers will continue to pay these nepotism-tainted-funds to the Bledsoes, Cecile Bledsoe incredulously votes multiple times to defund Arkansas Works, one of the key accomplishments of Governor Hutchinson, with the mantra “we can’t afford it”, totally disregarding that this would abandon over 250,000 Arkansans to a wasteland of no health insurance and cause a hole in our budget of potentially exceeding $130 Million.  And this comes from a woman who claims that she understands that people without health care are “sad and miserable” (her own words at a recent Chamber Candidate Forum).

 

FACT #4:  In the category of “taking every advantage”, it should be noted that in addition to their base salary, for certain meetings, legislators receive a “per diem” of $155 per day if they live more than 50 miles from the Capitol, but only $59 if within 50 miles. Based on Freedom of Information responses, it appears that Cecile Bledsoe routinely seeks and is paid at the maximum amount despite fact that she has a government-taxpayer-subsidized Apartment (Room 301 in the Capitol Hill Building) at the rate of $370 per month, plus all utilities paid (except phone) and standard cable TV (which is less than one block from the Capitol); and despite fact that she has bought a $300,000+ home – not a rental or investment property -  in Little Rock (which is less than 12 miles from the Capitol).


 

FACT #5:  Speaking of her Little Rock home, it’s worth noting that our earlier Episode Two raised the question, “Does Cecile Bledsoe Meet Residency Requirement” of the Arkansas Constitution to even be a candidate to represent District 3.  Despite the issue being raised, all Cecile Bledsoe has done was to point to a news article that quotes a County Clerk to the effect that “no homestead” claim was made by Bledsoe, though the seller of the Home did, and the Bledsoes may have received that benefit in the closing costs division.  Notice that Cecile Bledsoe herself does not make a public statement one way or the other. Further, a homestead claim does not determine the Constitutional question of “residency”. If it did, our Constitution would simply have said a candidate must live wherever they claim a homestead tax exemption.  In fact, the law of Arkansas recognizes that “residence” requires a review of the totality of circumstances. This is one of those uncomfortable situations where the Court wants to know, “not where you say you live, but where do you really live your life?” Cecile Bledsoe fails to provide any information on the subject, but Freedom of Information requests now reveal that her husband Dr. James Bledsoe agreed on his State Employment application that he would work 40 hours a week, but insisted ONLY in Little Rock.  If her husband will only work in Little Rock, it’s a 40 hour a week job, they bought a $300,000+ home there earlier this year, Cecile Bledsoe is 74 years of age, her two doctor sons live in Little Rock with most of her 10 grandchildren, where does she live her life? Little Rock.

FACT #6: We have talked about the General Improvement Fund (GIF) scandal throughout the campaign and Episode Six will be devoted exclusively to the subject from a corruption standpoint.  But under the topic of conflicts of interest, its bears pointing out that Cecile Bledsoe had a personal friendship with Oren Paris III, the former President of Ecclesia College (who is now in Federal prison).  She likely even contributed some of her personal funds to the college, but we don’t know since she refuses to answer any questions on the topic. There are an untold multitude of worthy non-profits in District 3 that could have been the recipients of her GIF grants, but she chose a religious school headed by her criminal friend Oren Paris III – now a known bribe-making criminal - which is not even in District 3.  Another example where the allegiance of Cecile Bledsoe is to friends, rather than District 3.

 

FACT #7:  Conflicts of interest cause people to make poor decisions.  Recall in Episode One, Nepotism, we pointed out that Dr. James Bledsoe failed to correctly answer more than one question in his employment application.  Additional Freedom Of Information requests provide further evidence of the same cavalier disregard for full transparency in answering questions. Under the heading “Nepotism” in his 2015 application to be hired by the Department of Health, he was asked “Do you have any relatives employed by the state agency to which you are submitting this application for employment?”  Rather than point out that his son Dr. Greg Bledsoe was on the Board of the Department of Health, he checked the box “No.”

FACT # 8: It’s as if Cecile Bledsoe is asserting her “right to remain silent”.  Why? She has approached this campaign for State Senate as if she fully recognizes that any response she gives could be used against her.  Her conflicts of interest are so blatant that she refuses to answer any inquiry from a constituent. All she will do is issue canned marketing materials prepared on her behalf. Though maintaining her “right to remain silent”, she works to stifle any effort to mandate that she and other lawmakers have to disclose conflicts of interest with Medicaid providers – and also routinely supports general efforts to weaken our Freedom of Information Act.  She won’t answer the straight-forward question of whether or not she is the subject of the FBI’s or Attorney General’s investigation. And when her friend Oren Paris III compares Governor Hutchinson to “Satan” and the State of Arkansas to the “Kingdom of Darkness”, she won’t state whether agrees or disagrees with that characterization. As the old saying goes, “Something is wrong with this picture”. Do you not expect your elected representatives to display total Transparency, Integrity and Accountability?

EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF EPISODE FIVE, PART 2 – CECILE BLEDSOE’S CONTINUING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST AND SELF-DEALING  “FACTS”:


 

PART 2:  Democrat Gazette, “Cecile Bledsoe” (page 1).  Communication is so loose within the Department of Health than internally when communicating with Dr. Greg Bledsoe about Dr. James Bledsoe, the reference is to “your father” rather than to his name. (pages 2-4)

EVIDENCE #1:  Itemized Receipts (page 5); News article “Former Springfield charity executive admits he bribed Arkansas legislators” (pages 12 of pages 6-16).  Also, Exhibits attached in support of Episode Four, Issue 1.

EVIDENCE #2:  See Cecile Bledsoe’s and Jon Comstock’s Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Reports, at the Arkansas Ethics Commission at http://arkansasethics.com

EVIDENCE #3:  Exhibits to Episode One and Five, Part 1 on Nepotism and Conflicts of Interest.  Also, video excerpt from Rogers/Lowell Chamber of Commerce meeting posted to joncomstockforsenate  Facebook page.

 

EVIDENCE #4:  Office of Secretary of State, Capitol Hill Apartment Rental Agreement (page 34); Exhibits to Episode Two “Residence”; “Per Diem Article” (pages 17-18); statutes (pages 19-23); FOIA Response from Government (pages 24-29); Transparency In Government (pages 30-33); Mapquest (page 35).

 

EVIDENCE #5:  Exhibits to Episode Two “Residence”; Arkansas Health, Request for Human Resources Position Action (shows 80 hours bi-weekly); excerpts from application, Section “Will you accept employment anywhere in the State? “NO” is checked.  If no, where would you accept employment? “Little Rock” is Dr. James Bledsoe’s answer (pages 36-38).

EVIDENCE #6:  See Episode Six, General Improvement Fund Scandal and all Exhibits attached.  Even the Democrat Gazette opined that GIF was used by “lawmakers just seeking credit for helping out constituents and lining up some future votes.”  Columnists, “GIF keeps giving”, Brenda Blagg (page 39).

EVIDENCE #7:  Excerpt from employment application, “NEPOTISM  Do you have any relatives employed by the state agency to which you are submitting this application for employment?  The box “No” is checked (page 40).

EVIDENCE #8:  See news article at page 11 of pages 6-16 for discussion of Freedom of Information; and Democrat Gazette “Not on our time” discussion attempt to limit the FOIA, which was supported by Cecile Bledsoe (page 42); David Ramsey writing in Arkansas Times, “At various times over the last five years, Arkansas’ government was taken hostage by a criminal enterprise.”(page 41)  Email from Oren Paris III to Jon Woods, “I think it is great to take money from Satan and [the] Kingdom of darkness…” when referring to Governor Hutchinson and the State, as reported by Democrat Gazette “Woods trial told of fiancée hiring” (page 43); Comstock letters making multiple requests, all treated with complete silence. (pages 44-56).

EPISODE SIX:  SENATOR CECILE BLEDSOE ENTANGLED WITH GIF SCANDAL – DUPED OR COMPLICIT?  EITHER WAY, TIME FOR HER TO GO.

FACT #1:  Cecile Bledsoe, with 16 years in the Legislature, is entangled with what some have called a money-laundering scheme with Ecclesia College.  President, Oren Paris III (who is on his way to prison) and adviser Robert Shelton (on his way to prison), undoubtedly persuaded her to give $60,000.00 of taxpayer money (commonly called “GIF” for General Improvement Fund) (and area legislators to give in excess of $700,000.00) for the college to buy valuable land, while paying bribes and giving kick-backs to former Senator Jon Woods (who is on his way to prison) and former Rep. Micah Neal (who is now a convicted felon) and other yet-to-be-identified legislators according to recent remarks of the U.S. Attorney and Arkansas Attorney General.  Bledsoe directed $25,000.00 to a Preferred Family Healthcare entity, also the subject of a comprehensive FBI investigation and a multitude of indictments and convictions.

FACT #2:  Everyone admits today that our State has been the victim of great legislative corruption in recent years and months.  The Attorney General has formed a new Government Integrity Unity. The Senate has rushed through revisions to their own Ethics Rule in an effort to stem the tide of criminal conduct.  Besides 5 legislators who have been convicted of corruption, we know that former Senator Jeremy Hutchinson has been indicted and former Senator Michael Lamoureux has been identified as a co-conspirator.  (He directed $100,000.00 to Ecclesia College). The reach of convictions and indictments of non-legislative leaders related to GIF and Medicaid Providers exceed 10 in number. The conspiracy is widespread and not limited to financial bribes, but includes seeking legislative action on behalf of Ecclesia College.  

 

FACT #3:  Cecile Bledsoe has refused to answer our inquiries as to whether she was duped by bad people or was complicit in their conduct.  Our area newspaper has asked her point-blank whether she has been interviewed by the FBI. She declined to answer. She fails to answer whether or not she is a subject of inquiry herself.  Despite being requested to make a public statement on her innocence or culpability, she maintains a wall of silence. She refuses any opportunity to talk candidly with the public and to be transparent on this matter.  Bledsoe is fully aware that people are left to speculate if she won’t “come clean” with the facts.

 

FACT #4:  GIF has been determined to be flawed from the beginning for its lack of accounting controls.  Senator Bledsoe herself gave direction over a half million dollars for one or more years, and has responded with total silence, other than to say, “Go do a FOIA request”, when asked by a constituent to disclose a comprehensive list of recipients and the dates and dollar amounts of each grant, and the process she followed in making the grants. Constituents will soon decide whether they expect more from their Senator.

 

FACT #5:  Our Supreme Court has found the GIF scheme to be unconstitutional on its face.


FACT #6:  Cecile Bledsoe has done nothing, literally nothing, to get back the taxpayers’ money from Ecclesia College.  If she has, we don’t know of it and have repeatedly asked her to tell the public what she has done. Silence is all we get.  At a minimum, she should be speaking out publicly and demanding that the funds be returned.

EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF EPISODE SIX “FACTS” ABOVE:


EVIDENCE #1:  Democrat Gazette article of 9/12/18, “Ecclesia’s Paris gets three years in prison for role in kickback scheme”, which provides many of the details of the corruption.  (pages 1-3) Article of 8/26/18, “Official: Govern went against advice, signed bill geared toward 1 Arkansas college”. (pages 4-7) Article of 9/3/17 “Investigation shows Arkansas legislators directed state grant money to 2 organizations”  (pages 8-19). Article of 8/23/18, “AG: More lawmakers targeted in investigation” (pages 20-21).

 

EVIDENCE #2:  News article of 9/2/18 (excerpt). (pages 22-23).

 

EVIDENCE #3:  News article of 9/3/17 (excerpt)… “…current Sen Cecile Bledsoe R-Rogers, declined to say whether federal agents interviewed” her. (page 13).  Comstock letter to Cecile Bledsoe, 9/9/18 (pages 24-27) wherein Comstock asked Bledsoe, “My assumption is that you were duped….[w]ould you please confirm that on the record, because as of today I can’t see that you have ever made a public statement on the matter.” (page 24)  “Aside from Ecclesia, I would ask for a record listing of all GIF funds you have directed… At the end of the day the public is entitled to a full explanation from you as to your role in the Ecclesia College scandal and the GIF program generally.” (page 26) Silence from Cecile Bledsoe other than suggestion that a FOIA request be filed per her letter of 9/11/18 (page 28).  

 

Comstock follow up letter of 9/14/18 (pages 29-30) reasserting that the requested information should be provided by Bledsoe, and cautions, “If you fail to respond to my legitimate inquiries as a constituent, then I can only assume that your responses, if made public, would be adverse to your personal interest…If that is a wrong assumption on my part, then it all the more incumbent on you to be fully transparent in these matters.”  “…. Don’t make the public speculate. This uncertainty of your role is not fair to them….”. (page 30). Senator Cecile Bledsoe has responded with total silence. No response, no denial, not even an assertion of innocence has been made.

 

EVIDENCE #4:  See page 26 and 28 above.

 

EVIDENCE #5:  Talk Business “Arkansas Supreme Court rules GIF dollars unconstitutional” (page 31-32), which decision was welcomed by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. (page 32).    Rep. Micah Neal’s Plea Agreement sets forth the corrupt scheme in detail.


EVIDENCE #6 : Law School Professor Howard Brill explains the legal basis for the State of Arkansas to recover GIF fraudulently obtained grants. (page 3) Comstock Letter of September 9, 2018 asked Bledsoe to describe any efforts she has made to get back the taxpayer money that she allowed to be siphoned off to Ecclesia College.  “At a minimum (she was asked), do you agree that it is your responsibility to make every reasonable effort to recover taxpayer money for which you acted as a fiduciary?” (page 24). Bledsoe never denies that she is a fiduciary in this context but remains totally silent in the face of these requests. See also Democrat Gazette editorial “Give it back.  Bible college should return criminal enterprise money.” Further down, “We’d argue state lawmakers, the crooked ones and the others who directed money to Ecclesia, should have never been devoting taxpayer dollars to a private religious school to begin with.” (page 52)

© Jon Comstock  for Arkansas 2020

Paid for by Jon Comstock for Arkansas