Former Little Rock superlobbyist Rusty Cranford, indicted in a separate federal corruption case, helped grease the hiring of Woods’ fiancee at an unusually high salary at Dayspring Behavioral Health Services, according to testimony yesterday and today. Dayspring is one of the entities under the umbrella of Missouri-based Preferred Family Healthcare, the Medicaid-enriched nonprofit that made millions providing mental health and other services in Arkansas and neighboring states. Cranford was an executive at PFH until last year. (He allegedly received hundreds of thousands in secret kickback payments in a separate scheme; his own trial, in federal court in Missouri, is set for May.)
In email discussions with Cranford about paying Woods’ fiancee an exorbitant salary, Tom Goss, then the chief financial officer at PFH stated, “Senator is taken care of. He is a new bubba for our team.” This network of
In the current federal trial, Woods is accused of being part of a kickback scheme, along with former state Rep. Micah Neal, to funnel public money to entities associated with Cranford and PFH (Cranford is not charged in this case). Woods is also charged with being part of a kickback scheme involving Ecclesia College, along with Neal, consultant Randell Shelton, and Ecclesia president Oren Paris III (Shelton and Paris are not charged in the alleged PFH scheme). Neal and Paris have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the prosecution.
The Dayspring/PFH network received $400,000 in state grants, most of it directed by Woods (the flow of money involved various corporate identities involving Cranford or under the same umbrella, including AmeriWorks and Decision Point). Neal was also involved in directing this grant money. Cranford signed the application for the grants and accepted the funds in September of 2013, depositing the money into the account of AmeriWorks, a new nonprofit he incorporated immediately after accepting the grant. Cranford later returned this money the day after federal investigators spoke to him, according to prosecutors.
According to the federal indictment, Cranford paid Woods an unknown amount of money in kickbacks that October; Woods paid Neal $20,000 on Cranford’s behalf; and AmeriWorks sent Cranford’s lobbying firm a check for $16,500.
The thanks sent to Woods may have gone beyond direct kickbacks, according to testimony yesterday and today. Four months after the $400,000 windfall, according to a human resources staffer at Dayspring, Cranford emailed the company the cover letter and resume of Christina Mitchell, Woods’ then-fiancee (they married later that year, with Shelton as best man in the wedding). The staffer was informed by the company’s corporate headquarters that the hiring had already been approved, and testified that Cranford approved every employee hiring. Mitchell was hired in February as an on-the-job trainer for Dayspring at $70,000 a year, helping clients at the substance abuse treatment center with employment. She also received $300 per month in mileage allowance and cell phone reimbursement. When she left the position in June, her replacement was hired for half the salary.
Originally, Cranford and other PFH leadership had hoped to hire Mitchell at a salary of $90,000 a year, according to emails between Cranford and Goss, the chief financial officer. However, they apparently concluded that this would be too outrageous because
Oh, and by the way, the government also presented evidence yesterday that the original draft of the grant application was filled out by … Boss’s wife Bontiea,
In addition to the grant money, the prosecution presented evidence yesterday that Woods sought $4.7 million in state grants and other public no-interest loans to move a thermostat manufacturer from Springfield, Mo., to northwest Arkansas. You’ll never guess who two of that private company’s board members were: Tom and Bontiea Goss. Tangled webs in the Ozarks.
Woods was tapped to gather support for the deal in the Senate and Neal in the House, according to evidence presented by the government. It ultimately never materialized, although previous testimony has shown that Woods and Neal were quite persuasive in rounding up money from their colleagues for entities alleged to have paid them kickbacks.
Cranford, indicted on unrelated charges involving alleged kickback shenanigans and Preferred Family Health Care, was denied bail in March after a judge found that allegations that Cranford had attempted to hire someone to murder his alleged co-conspirator were credible. According to court filings by federal prosecutors, Cranford told an unnamed felon, “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. No charge has been filed in the alleged murder-for-hire scheme.