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Preferred Family Healthcare is at the center of a multistate investigation.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
Preferred Family Healthcare is at the center of a multistate investigation.

Lobbyist tied to local nonprofit pleads guilty to bribery, embezzlement

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An Arkansas lobbyist who led local nonprofit Preferred Family Healthcare’s operations in the Natural State pleaded guilty to a bribery and embezzlement scheme.

Milton, aka Rusty, Cranford, 57, of Rogers, Arkansas, yesterday admitted he participated in a multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe Arkansas elected officials and embezzle millions of dollars from PFH, according to a news release from the office of Tim Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

Cranford, who operated lobbying firms The Cranford Coalition, The Capital Hill Coalition and Outcomes of Arkansas, acknowledged he and other PFH executives bribed Arkansas state Sen. Jonathan Woods, state Rep. Hank Wilkins, a person identified in court documents as “Arkansas Senator A” and others.

In exchange for the bribes, the legislators allegedly steered Arkansas General Improvement Fund money to PFH and other clients of Cranford. They also allegedly disrupted agency budgets, requested audits, and sponsored, filed and voted for bills that favored PFH and Cranford’s other clients, according to the release.

With the additional income, Cranford and other PFH executives embezzled money through various schemes, including:
    •    diverting charity funds toward for-profit companies owned by the officials;
    •    causing the charity to make rental payments for properties the executives owned;
    •    paying for personal expenses with corporate credit cards; and
    •    lending funds to Cranford and for-profit companies the executives owned.

Cranford also admitted to paying more than $600,000 in illegal kickbacks to a PFH executive in exchange for $3.5 million in payments made to The Cranford Coalition. In another kickback scheme, Cranford received $219,000 from co-conspirator Donald Jones, a Pennsylvania political consultant. The kickback scheme also involved co-conspirator Eddie Cooper, a former Arkansas state representative. Both Jones and Cooper have separately pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme and await sentencing, according to the release.

Cranford’s sentencing hearing will be held after the U.S. Probation Office completes its presentence investigation.

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