Doug Thompson at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has the latest in the lurid saga of the former Little Rock super-lobbyist Rusty Cranford: A federal judge today denied bail to Cranford because he found credible allegations that Cranford attempted to hire someone to murder his co-conspirator.
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The alleged murder target was D.A. Jones, a Pennsylvania consultant and lobbyist who’s pleaded guilty to receiving nearly $1 million in a bribery scheme from Preferred Family Healthcare in Springfield, Mo., the Medicaid-enriched nonprofit that made millions providing mental health and other services in Arkansas and neighboring states. Cranford was an executive at the company until last year and allegedly received hundreds of thousands in secret kickback payments from Jones.
Cranford was indicted on nine counts by a federal grand jury last month for his alleged role in the bribery scheme. He pleaded not guilty and is set for trial in May.
Another alleged co-conspirator, former lobbyist and Arkansas state Rep. Eddie Cooper, has pleaded guilty in the conspiracy in which Cranford is charged and has provided information alleging heavy gambling and drug use by Cranford.
According to court filings by federal prosecutors, Cranford contacted an unnamed felon and arranged a meeting (this felon contacted federal authorities and the FBI recorded the meeting. “He’s in Philadelphia,” Cranford told him of Jones. “He’s in south Jersey. (Whispered) He needs to go away. He needs to be gone.” According to the court filing, Cranford made a gun-shooting gesture with his hand when he made this statement. Prosecutors also alleged that Cranford had moved without notice, dyed his hair, had a significant amount of cash and otherwise exhibited signs that he was preparing to flee.
No charge has been filed in the alleged murder-for-hire scheme.
Cranford has also been implicated, but not charged, in a separate case in which one former legislator, Rep. Micah Neal, has pleaded guilty and another, Sen. Jon Woods, is awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to get kickbacks from state money directed to Ecclesia College, a Bible college in Springdale, as well as Preferred Family Healthcare. Still others may yet be charged.
There has been some speculation that Cranford might take a plea deal for testifying in Woods’ case and potentially others involving Arkansas legislators. That is presumably out the window if he’s actually charged in the alleged murder-for-hire scheme.