Top 10 Online Stories of 2013: Fraud, Development, Paula Deen Attract Reader Attention

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 12:00 am  

Arkansas Business’ Oct. 14 cover story detailing a long-running, $15 million Medicaid fraud by a Mountain Home doctor was the most-read story online in 2013, according to traffic data from ArkansasBusiness.com.

Senior Editor Mark Friedman mined court documents and affidavits and interviewed the late doctor’s ex-wife to report for the first time evidence that Dr. Stacey Johnson, who died in 2013 at 63, had been over testing patients as far back as the mid-1980s.

Johnson died of natural causes in March before prosecutors could indict. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit in an attempt to seize the mansion now held by Johnson’s ex-wife. Cynthia Johnson ultimately paid $600,000 to settle the lawsuit and keep the property. She says she doesn’t believe the doctor committed fraud.

“I worked in the office for 28 years with him, and he did not overbill Medicare,” she told Friedman. “He didn’t even pay attention to what was being billed. He was simply the physician and he did what he felt was right for the patients.»

Fraud

As is often the case, fraud was a common thread among Arkansas Business’ most-read stories this year. As such, two stories chronicling the legal troubles of former northwest Arkansas developer Brandon Barber entered the top 10 this year.

The most popular was former Northwest Arkansas Editor Chris Bahn’s in-depth cover story on Barber and the five co-defendants in a pair of schemes: one to inflate the value of real estate deals in order to get extra money out of First Federal Bank of Harrison, and another to hide Barber’s debts from creditors before and after he filed for bankruptcy protection.

Bahn’s story profiled each of the defendants, detailing their alleged misdeeds and their connections to Barber. And for the first time, Arkansas Business was able to reveal an unnamed conspirator who didn’t live to be indicted: Gary Combs, another northwest Arkansas developer, who investigators say participated in the scheme to defraud First Federal Bank. Combs died in 2012.

The other story, No. 8 on the list of the year’s biggest traffic generators, was a March 20 report on Barber’s initial arrest in New York City and the multi-count indictments against him and his surviving co-conspirators.

The other most-read fraud story of 2013 was based on Senior Editor George Waldon’s interview with banker Layton “Scooter” Stuart, conducted prior to Stuart’s death on March 26.

Waldon had been digging into Stuart’s troubles at One Bank & Trust for months before Arkansas Business published portions of the interview in a cover story in August. The story revealed that Stuart believed he knew who had tipped off the federal regulators who ultimately removed Stuart from the helm of the bank he owned: former One Bank COO Michael Heald and Thinc Marketing Group President Tom Ricciardone.

Neither Heald nor Ricciardone would comment for the story. But the comments from Stuart, revealed months after his death from natural causes, added new layers to a story of embezzlement and self-dealings that continues to unravel.

 

 

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