Rusty Cranford, the former lobbyist and health company executive involved in bribery and kickback schemes with various Arkansas legislators and others, entered a negotiated guilty plea this morning to a restated set of charges in federal court in Springfield, Mo.
It’s a massive 43-page criminal information that details hundreds of thousands in bribes and kickbacks to former and at least one current Arkansas legislator to aid a private nonprofit that made tens of millions in Medicaid reimbursements from Arkansas. It is still receiving that money, though under new leadership.
It’s a sprawling bill of particulars about how Cranford’s former employer, set up as a nonprofit, employed or bribed former and current legislators to enhance its business, which reaped $837 million in government money from 2008-2016 and $384 million in Medicaid alone in several states, including Arkansas.
Some of the names are familiar — former legislators Jon Woods and Henry Wilkins, for example. But the information also lists unnamed persons and agencies of interest, many with identifiable descriptions. They include
The information sets out some $88,000 funneled to Henry Wilkins of Pine Bluff, who’s pleaded guilty. But it also details $500,00 paid to “Arkansas Senator A” in “cash, checks, wire transfers, attorney fees
Senator A has been in the Senate since 2011. Previously, he served in the Arkansas House from 2000 to 2007. He is also a practicing lawyer. That description fits Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. He’s been linked to the investigation previously and once was Cranford’s divorce attorney. I’m seeking his comment, but he’s denied connection to this previously.
It became evident at the hearing today in Springfield that, indeed, Senator is Jeremy Hutchinson.
I received this comment from his attorney, Tim Dudley of Little Rock:
I represent Senator Hutchinson.
I have read Mr. Cranford’s plea agreement. It clearly mischaracterizes Mr. Hutchinson’s work as a practicing attorney and part-time legislator. Mr. Hutchinson has done nothing illegal or unethical.
The document replays some of the General Improvement Fund scandal, including Cranford’s bribing of Jon Woods, recently convicted in a kickback scheme with his friend Randell Shelton and Oren Paris, president of Ecclesia College, which received $700,000 in taxpayer money thanks to Woods and other Northwest Arkansas legislators thought it’s a tiny church organization.
Of particular interest is a scheme to bribe legislators to influence legislation about oversight of behavioral health agencies that receive significant Medicaid reimbursement.
The 43-page document is a mind-boggling compilation of bribery, kickbacks to Cranford and others and legislative skulduggery to enrich organizations that live off federal money meant to help people in need. Read it all here. It’s going to take some study to get clear on details. Of lesser note, but still legally dubious, is moving nonprofit money around to throw political fund-raisers.
Much more to come. But the single charge to which Cranford pleaded boils down
The plea hearing took less than 15 minutes. A sentencing report will follow.
With guilty pleas from Cranford and three former legislators, Micah Neal, Henry Wilkins and Eddie Cooper, and conviction of a fourth, Jon Woods, the feds would seem to be set up to pursue others named in the charge. I ask the state Department of Human Services again why an outfit built on such much corruption — even if the evil-doers have been ousted — still is drawing millions from the state in a system they manipulated.
The business is lucrative. It enabled the conspirators to funnel off millions in bribes, campaign contributions and personal kickbacks to themselves and for-profit companies.
The additional income gained by Preferred Family Healthcare from Cranford’s bribes enabled Cranford and other executives of the charity to engage in multiple schemes to embezzle, steal, and unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of the charity, including, but not limited to, diverting charity funds to for-profit companies owned by the executives, causing the charity to make rental payments to properties owned by Cranford and the executives; paying for their personal expenses using corporate credit cards; and causing the charity to lend significant funds to Cranford personally, and to for-profit companies owned by other charity executives. The executives also caused the charity to misapply its funds for unlawful contributions to the campaigns of elected public officials and causing the charity to spend substantial amounts of funds on lobbying and political advocacy.
In addition, Cranford entered into an illegal kickback scheme whereby Cranford paid over $600,000 in illegal kickbacks to a charity executive in exchange for more than $3.5 million in payments made to The Cranford Coalition. Cranford also acknowledged his role in a second illegal kickback scheme involving the charity’s contract with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based political operative Donald Andrew Jones, also known as “D.A.” Jones, and another charity employee, former Arkansas State Representative Eddie Wayne Cooper. In exchange for Cranford’s role in facilitating the charity’s contract with Jones for lobbying and political advocacy, under which the charity paid Jones almost $1 million, Cranford received kickbacks totaling $219,000 from Jones, $18,000 of which Cranford provided to Cooper, and Cooper received another $45,000 directly from Jones. In separate but related cases, both Jones and Cooper previously entered guilty pleas acknowledging their roles in that kickback scheme.