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story.lead_photo.caption Milton "Rusty" Cranford

Milton "Rusty" Cranford, the lobbyist at the heart of a multimillion dollar Medicaid fraud scandal, will receive his sentence Nov. 25, according to court records posted Tuesday.

The sentencing date was set five weeks after a bond hearing for Cranford. The federal magistrate hasn't released a decision on the bond request.

Cranford has remained in the Greene County, Mo. jail since his Feb. 21, 2018 arrest in Bentonville on bribery charges. The investigation leading to Cranford's arrest also led to the arrest and guilty plea of former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson and other former state lawmakers, along with the top management team of one of the state's largest Medicaid recipients for behavioral health care.

Cranford pleaded guilty to one count of federal program bribery on June 7, 2018. He could face up to 10 years in federal prison.

Since his guilty plea, Cranford has appeared three times before federal grand juries in the corruption investigation, has met with federal investigators 10 times and has also met with investigators for the state of Arkansas, federal prosecutors confirmed during the bond hearing.

The fraud investigation has yielded guilty pleas from Hutchinson and Henry "Hank" Wilkins of Pine Bluff, among others. All involve bribes paid by Cranford to benefit Preferred Family Healthcare of Springfield, Mo., which was one of Arkansas' largest Medicaid recipients for behavioral health services before the scandal broke in 2017.

A federal grand jury in Missouri indicted Cranford before his arrest on one count of conspiracy and eight counts of accepting bribes.

Since Cranford's arrest, a federal grand jury in Missouri has indicted Preferred Family's former chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Other company officers as well as board members and former Arkansas legislators have pleaded guilty to charges in the ongoing investigation.

One former state lawmaker, Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale, was convicted at trial of steering a state grant to Cranford in return for a bribe.

The case against Cranford relates to illegal lobbying for Preferred Family, which operated substance abuse and behavioral health treatment centers in five states, including Arkansas. It had 47 sites in Arkansas alone before having to sell them off after losing its state Medicaid certification because of the scandal.

Cranford and other executives embezzled at least $4 million from the nonprofit group between 2011 and January 2017, according to federal prosecutors. Most of the money paid for illegal lobbying Cranford helped direct, according to his guilty plea.

Cranford first registered as a lobbyist in Arkansas in 2005, Secretary of State's Office records show. His lobbying firms over the years include Cranford and Associates and the Cranford Coalition.

In 2007, Cranford became an employee and manager of Alternative Opportunities, a predecessor to Preferred Family Healthcare. Preferred Family and Alternative Opportunities merged in 2015. The company has used the name Preferred Family since.

NW News on 11/13/2019

Print Headline: Sentencing set for Cranford

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