Aide to Rep. Bob Brady pleads guilty in illegal lobbying probe in Missouri

Donald “D.A.” Jones pleaded guilty Monday to federal conspiracy charges in Springfield, Mo. He is pictured here leaving federal court in Philadelphia in October after his arraignment in a separate case involving $90,000 U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s campaign made to pay a primary challenger to drop out of a 2012 race.

Days after admitting that he lied about payments he made on behalf of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s 2012 campaign, one of the congressman’s top political strategists has confessed to separate federal crimes involving $1 million he was illegally paid to lobby on behalf of a Missouri charity.

Donald “D.A.” Jones, 62, of Willingboro, pleaded guilty Monday in Springfield, Mo., to conspiring to steal from an organization that receives federal funds.

As in the Pennsylvania-based case involving Brady, federal prosecutors in Missouri said Jones hid his misdeeds through sham consulting agreements and allowed his Philadelphia-based political consulting firm – D.A. Jones & Associates — to be used as a pass-through for illicitly spent money.

Between April 2011 and January of this year, Jones admitted, he used that money to advance the interests of Preferred Family Healthcare, a Missouri-based mental health services and substance abuse nonprofit funded largely through government grants and Medicaid reimbursements. He hoped to influence those with sway over matters of interest to the nonprofit through setting up meetings with and directing contributions to key lawmakers in Washington.

The lobbying work Jones performed was not itself illegal, prosecutors said, but the way he was paid broke federal rules barring charities from using government funds to make political contributions or lobby for federal grants or contracts.

To hide the work Jones was doing for Preferred Family Healthcare, executives there drew up “consulting” agreements with Jones’ consulting firm, according to the indictment in Jones’ case. He admitted Monday that he knew those contracts to be shams meant to cover the true work he was doing for the charity.

Jones’ lawyer, Alan J. Tauber, declined Tuesday to comment on his client’s guilty plea but referred to an earlier statement in which Jones apologized for his misdeeds.

Jones, known in Philadelphia as a quietly effective expert in get-out-the vote efforts for local political campaigns, has worked on behalf of clients across the country as well as for local candidates, including former City Controller Jonathan Saidel and Sheriff Jewell Williams in recent years.

His plea in the Missouri case came about a week after Jones admitted his role in the unrelated federal probe involving Brady, one of his oldest clients.

It remains uncertain whether the congressman – chairman of the city’s Democratic Party – will ultimately face charges in the matter.

Jones, during a Dec. 8 court hearing in Philadelphia, admitted that he helped illegally hide a $90,000 payment Brady’s campaign made to convince a 2012 Democratic primary challenger to drop his campaign.

Two others – including Brady’s 2012 primary rival, former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore – have also pleaded guilty and Ken Smukler, another longtime Brady strategist, has been charged in the case.

The deals Jones struck with government lawyers in Philadelphia and Missouri both reference his continued cooperation and possible testimony with authorities in both states. They also put off his sentencing – at which he could face up to five years in prison – until both investigations end.

Jones became at least the second person to plead guilty in the Missouri probe of Preferred Family Health, which had also operated under the name Alternative Opportunities during the period under investigation. In June, an accountant who had done work for the nonprofit admitted to stealing almost $2 million from the charity.

The plea documents in the case suggest Jones’ admission comes at the early stages of what appears to be a wide-ranging probe of Preferred Family Healthcare and its leadership. The court filings reference five unnamed co-conspirators, all of whom were either executives or employees of the charity in Missouri or Arkansas.

Each, prosecutors say, was involved in deploying Jones to lobby for the charity on issues ranging from overtime pay regulations, efforts to secure FEMA money after a tornado in Joplin, Mo., and grants for future programs.

Jones admitted Monday that he kicked back nearly 30 percent of the $973,807 he was paid by the nonprofit between 2011 and 2017 to two of his co-conspirators – one of whom was described in court papers as a lobbyist and former Arkansas state legislator.

Jones also said he took charity funds to lobby on behalf of a for-profit company owned by two of the unnamed Preferred Family Healthcare executives that repackaged and sold thermostats imported from China.