Another shoe has dropped in the federal corruption probe of Preferred Family Healthcare and various Arkansas politicians — this one more bad news for former Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson
Robin Raveendran, 63, of Little Rock, a former executive of PFH and a former DHS official already facing state Medicaid fraud charges, has pleaded guilty in federal court in Springfield, Mo., to conspiracy to bribe Hutchinson to influence public policy for the benefit of PFH and its executives.
From a news release about Raveendran’s plea before a magistrate to a charge that he conspired to commit bribery in a program receiving federal money:
Raveendran worked for Preferred Family Healthcare (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc.) from 2014 to 2017 as a director of operations, executive vice president, and analyst. Prior to his employment with the charity, Raveendran was employed by the state of Arkansas as director of program integrity for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Medical Services, and then as business operations manager with the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General.
By pleading guilty today, Raveendran admitted that he participated in a conspiracy to bribe then-Arkansas State Senator Jeremy Young Hutchinson, who is charged in a separate case, in order to influence and reward Hutchinson in exchange for Hutchinson taking legislative and official action favorable to Preferred Family Healthcare and its executives.
According to today’s plea agreement, Preferred Family paid funds to Alliance for Health Care (also known as Alliance for Health Care Improvement), a private association formed in early 2014 by Raveendran, Hutchinson, and Milton “Rusty” Cranford, an Arkansas lobbyist and Preferred Family executive. Alliance was formed to advocate for issues relevant to health care providers at the Arkansas state legislature and in state departments.
Raveendran then directed Alliance funds to Hutchinson, the plea agreement says, in exchange for Hutchinson holding up agency budgets; initiating legislative audits; sponsoring, filing, and voting for legislation, including shell bills; and pressuring and advising other public officials to perform official action on behalf of Preferred Family.
Raveendran admitted that he and others concealed evidence of the bribes by falsely describing such unlawful payments as being solely for attorney’s fees and legal retainers.
Preferred Family Healthcare was known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc. from its founding in 1991 until its 2015 merger with Preferred Family Healthcare. The charity, which is cooperating with federal investigators, provided a variety of services to individuals in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois, including mental and behavioral health treatment and counseling, substance abuse treatment and counseling, employment assistance, aid to individuals with developmental disabilities, and medical services.
Under federal statutes, Raveendran is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, Raveendran must pay $25,000 in restitution to the government.
David Ramsey wrote extensively about Raveendran’s involvement for the Arkansas Times. The news release doesn’t address whether this plea could figure in how the pending state case against him is handled. That case was recently continued on a defense motion and a trial set Nov. 6-8.
UPDATE: I sought comment from attorneys on the other case. They didn’t comment. But they provided this statement.
By entering a guilty plea today, Mr. Raveendran began the process of righting a wrong by accepting responsibility for his role in a broader conspiracy to bribe a state legislator. After decades of public service, in 2014 Mr. Raveendran entered the private sector, where he was exposed to a culture of greed and corruption that was unfamiliar to him. Ultimately, he participated in a corrupt practice that had sadly become commonplace for many people in positions of public and private trust. Mr. Raveendran greatly regrets that his conduct threatened to undermine the democratic process that he holds in high esteem.
This poor choice does not define Mr. Raveendran’s character; it is not representative of him as a person or the life he has lived. Mr. Raveendran is a generous, compassionate, hard-working man of integrity. He is remorseful, ashamed and regretful that his connection to these events has caused his family pain and tarnished his name. Mr. Raveendran looks forward to moving past this period in his life. He will continue to make every effort to do what is right. He is grateful that those who know him continue to support him, and he asks that others reserve judgment until all of the information is revealed through the legal process. His admission today should not be taken as an indication of his complicity in other acts of wrongdoing that may have been committed by others.
– Erin Cassinelli and Jordan Tinsley, Attorneys for Robin Raveendran
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office brought the state case, issued a brief statement suggesting that case might have figured in the federal plea.
“Raveendran’s plea based on his egregious criminal conduct underscores our decision to charge him initially for Medicaid fraud following our extensive investigation involving millions of documents,” said Attorney General Rutledge.
The case in which Raveendran has agreed to testify is separate from the charge Hutchinson faces in Little Rock for illegal spending of campaign money and failure to pay income taxes. That case is set for trial July 8 unless Judge Kristine Baker grants his motion to dismiss the charge on account of tainted computer evidence. She just completed two days of hearings on whether that information should be admitted in the trial.
The Missouri case against two top former PFH executives and Hutchinson is scheduled for trial in April 2021. Hutchinson’s defense costs continue to mount at an astronomical pace. He’s used a team of five lawyers from New York, Washington and Little Rock. A legal defense fund led by his lobbyist father, former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson (brother of the governor) and former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, has refused to disclose details about the defense fund.
Hutchinson has contended the legal retainer he was paid by PFH was for legitimate legal work, though former lobbyist Rusty Cranford and now Robin Raveendran are apparently prepared to testify otherwise. There’s not much evidence of that, though he was attorney on a case lost by a PFH affiliate because he failed to file pleadings in the case.
It was Raveendran’s state charge that finally led the state Department of Human Services to cut PFH out of the Medicaid program.
Here’s the federal charge against Raveendran.
It details how Raveendran, Cranford and Hutchinson formed a private association, the Alliance for Health Care Improvement, in 2014 to advocate for health care issues. PFH paid the Alliance $25,000 a year and other providers paid $5,000 to $10,000. The three of them received money directly from the membership dues.
The charge says Raveendran conspired with Tom and Bontiea Goss, top officers of PFH, paid money to Alliance that was funneled to Hutchinson in return for legislative action, including “holding up agency budgets, initiating legislative audits, sponsoring filing and voting for legislation, including shell bills, and pressuring and advising other public officials to perform official action.” The payments were falsely described as attorney fees.
The charge details $75,000 sent to the Alliance from 2014 to 2016 and checks totaling more than $36,000 to Hutchinson or his law firm during that period.
The information details action taken by Hutchinson on two specific bills.
Hutchinson subsequently introduced a Senate shell bill on the definition of independent contractors. And then a House bill was filed that contained the changed law the alliance members wanted. Hutchinson voted for it.
Later, DHS tried to introduce legislation on “episodes of care,” a system for reimbursing providers. PFH thought it would cause financial harm. The charge says payments to Hutchinson were made to promote PFH’s position on the issue.
Here’s Raveendran’s plea agreement.