Chirie Bazzelle, owner and CEO of New Beginnings Behavioral Health Sevices has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing government operations in the course of a Medicaid fraud investigation.
This case arose from an allegation that she hadn’t been truthful when she said she didn’t know then-Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) had written a letter seeking permission for her agency to operate in Cleveland County. The plea is a result of a plea bargain in which the state dropped three other more serious charges and she received a $500 fine on the misdemeanor.
The plea was announced by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
New Beginnings was reimbursed more than $5.3 million for services during its time as a Medicaid provider. It is no longer in the program.
A Rutledge news release said:
Bazzelle, 46, of Benton, failed to report contracts with lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford, and former Department of Human Services Auditor, Robin Raveendran. Cranford, Raveendran and other full-time employees of Preferred Family Healthcare secretly helped Bazzelle turn New Beginnings into one of the state’s largest single-site mental health providers. She also knowingly concealed the continued employment of at least one individual who had previously been convicted of Medicaid Fraud.
Robin Raveendran, a former state auditor and Preferred Family Healthcare Director of Program Integrity and Director of Operations, is currently charged with two counts of Medicaid fraud, one Class A felony and one Class B felony based on a two year investigation by the Arkansas Attorney General’s office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Both Cranford and Raveendran have pleaded guilty in a parallel federal public corruption case involving Preferred Family Healthcare and former Arkansas legislators.
Bazzelle has a lawsuit pending against Hutchinson for failing to follow through on a personal injury claim she had from an auto accident. Among other things, she said Hutchinson shouldn’t have agreed to take the case because he was a silent partner in a company with Raveendran, with whom Bazzelle said New Beginnings had a dispute.
The Preferred Family Healthcare scandal is a sprawling probe that has involved at least six former legislators. The former heads of the Missouri-based health provider still await trial in which many of those who pleaded guilty are expected to testify.