Rusty Cranford of Rogers, the lobbyist enmeshed but previously not charged in the ongoing probe of kickbacks to legislators from state General Improvement Fund money, was indicted today in Missouri in a million-dollar bribery scheme.
A news release from the Western District of Missouri”:
– Timothy A. Garrison, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a former executive of a Springfield charity, who was also an Arkansas lobbyist has been indicted by a federal grand jury for his role in a nearly $1 million bribery conspiracy involving a Springfield, Mo., health care organization.
Milton Russell Cranford, also known as “Rusty,” 56, of Rogers, Arkansas, was charged in a nine-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. That indictment was unsealed and made public today upon Cranford’s arrest. An initial court appearance is scheduled tomorrow in the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Cranford was both a lobbyist and an employee of Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc.), a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Springfield. Cranford served as an executive for the charity’s operations in the state of Arkansas. Cranford also operated two lobbying firms, The Cranford Coalition and The Capital Hill Coalition.
The indictment alleges that Cranford and co-conspirator Eddie Wayne Cooper, 51, of Melbourne, Arkansas, received $264,000 in secret kickback payments from co-conspirator Donald Andrew Jones, also known as “D.A.” Jones, of Willingboro, New Jersey, who was paid nearly $1 million by the charity in a bribery scheme that lasted almost six years, from February 2011 until January 2017.
Cooper, a former state representative in Arkansas from 2006 through January 2011, worked for The Cranford Coalition as a lobbyist and held a full-time position as regional director for Preferred Family Healthcare. Jones was a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based political operative who owned and operated the firm, D.A. Jones & Associates, which purported to provide political and advocacy services, including consulting, analysis, and public relations. Neither Cooper nor Jones are charged in the indictment with Cranford; they each have pleaded guilty in separate cases.
Cranford allegedly recommended to the charity’s chief financial officer, chief operating officer and chief executive officer to enter into a contractual arrangement with Jones for lobbying and advocacy services. Cranford influenced the charity in its award of the contract, the indictment says, then demanded payments to himself and Cooper of a portion of the funds Jones obtained from the charity in exchange for Cranford’s influence on Jones’s behalf.
According to the indictment, the charity paid Jones a total of $973,807 to provide advocacy services for the charity, including direct contact with legislators, legislators’ offices, and government officials, in order to influence elected and appointed public officials to the financial benefit of the charity, including attempting to steer grants and other sources of funding to the charity. Jones allegedly paid a total of $264,000 to Cranford and Cooper. Most of the funds were paid to Cranford or one of his firms, the indictment says.
In addition to the conspiracy, the indictment charges Cranford with eight counts of receiving a bribe by an agent of an organization that receives federal funds.
Cranford also figures in a federal probe in the Western District of Arkansas (whose agents worked in Missouri, too) where former Republican Sen. Jon Woods is awaiting trial on charges that he and other drew kickbacks from funneling taxpayer money to Ecclesia College, a church in Springdale. Former Republican Rep. Micah Neal has pleaded guilty. Cranford had previously been identified as a participant in financial machinations involving that scheme.
The Missouri case concerns the activities of a company organized as a nonprofit — and
Cranford had many lobby clients in Arkansas and worked with several other legislators in Arkansas, none so far named in criminal charges. His associations, though not illegal in themselves, have long given rise to speculation that more legislators might be implicated in unrelated probes
Former Republican Sen. Jake Files has also pleaded guilty to tapping GIF money for personal use, but that was in a swindle unrelated to Cranford’s interests.