RUSTY CRANFORD: Seeks release from jail pending sentencing.

Rusty Cranford, the former lobbyist and health company executive who pleaded guilty to his role in the massive Preferred Family Healthcare public corruption case, was sentenced to seven years in prison today in federal court in Springfield, Mo., 40/29 reports.

He’s already served 22 months in Greene County Jail, time that will be credited to his sentence. He’s also been ordered to repay $3.7 million for illegal benefits he received over the years. The government will seize some property he owns in Florida and Arkansas, but it’s worth only a tiny fraction of the judgment.

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40/29’s report said Cranford, 58, apologized in court for his actions. The judge agreed to recommend that Cranford be imprisoned in Texarkana, near the Southwest Arkansas home of two minor children, but that decision is up to the Bureau of Prisons.

Cranford was a key figure in a case that included bribes and kickbacks that have produced guilty pleas or convictions of former legislators Micah Neal, Jon Woods, Eddie Cooper. Hank Wilkins and Jeremy Hutchinson. Woods is appealing his conviction. Neal was sentenced to a period of home detention, which he’s completed. Cooper, Wilkins and Hutchinson have not been sentenced. Numerous other people associated with the PFH scandal and also kickbacks in other nonprofit agencies have been charged or pleaded guilty. A trial still pends against the top two former leaders of PFH, which reaped tens of millions in government reimbursements for mental health and other services in five states. It has pulled out of Arkansas.

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Cranford had pleaded for pre-sentencing release to spend some time with family before going to federal prison. But a hearing on that request was canceled after today’s sentencing hearing was scheduled. He withdrew that motion today.

Judge Brian Wimes sentenced Cranford. He could have received a 10-year sentence. In the federal system, there’s scant time off possible for good behavior (up to 54 days a year for “exemplary: behavior), though final months are sometimes spent in less restrictive halfway houses.

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The government’s release, for the record:

A former executive of a Springfield, Missouri charity, who was also an Arkansas lobbyist, was sentenced in federal court today for his role in bribing Arkansas elected officials in a multi-million-dollar scheme, and then along with other charity executives, embezzling millions of dollars from the Springfield health care organization.

Milton Russell Cranford, aka “Rusty,” 58, of Rogers, Arkansas, was sentenced by U. S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes to seven years in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Cranford to forfeit $3,726,589 to the government.

Cranford previously pleaded guilty to one count of federal program bribery.  Cranford was an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities Inc.), a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Springfield, and oversaw the charity’s operations and lobbying efforts in the state of Arkansas. As part of his plea, Cranford previously admitted that he and other Preferred Family Healthcare executives paid bribes to Arkansas legislators, several of whom have pleaded guilty or been convicted separately, to provide favorable legislative action for Cranford, his clients, and Preferred Family Healthcare. In exchange for the bribes paid by Cranford, the officials, amongst other official acts, steered Arkansas General Improvement Fund (GIF) money to Preferred Family Healthcare and other Cranford clients; held up agency budgets; requested legislative audits; and sponsored, filed and voted for legislative bills that favored the charity and Cranford clients.

The additional income gained by Preferred Family Healthcare from Cranford’s bribes enabled Cranford and other charity executives, some of whom have either pleaded guilty or been charged separately for their role in the bribery and embezzlement scheme, 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; engaging in an illegal kick-back scheme between Cranford and another charity executive; causing the charity to make rental payments to properties owned the executives; and causing the charity to lend significant funds to for-profit companies owned by other charity executives.

As a part of Cranford’s sentence, the court also ordered him to pay a forfeiture money judgment of $3,726,589 to the United States, including $17,989 in cash seized at the time of his arrest, and $95,034 held by his attorneys, which Cranford had agreed to pay over to the government.