Ex-lobbyist faces Nov. 25 sentencing for Arkansas bribery

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — A former lobbyist who pleaded guilty to bribing three former Arkansas lawmakers including the governor’s nephew will be sentenced this month, court records show.

Rusty Cranford could face up to 10 years in federal prison for bribing Sen. Jon Woods, Rep. Hank Wilkins and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. Cranford had hoped to increase revenue for the Missouri-based nonprofit Preferred Family HealthCare.

A federal grand jury in Missouri indicted Cranford on one count of conspiracy and eight counts of accepting bribes. Court records posted Tuesday show Cranford will be sentenced Nov. 25, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Cranford also confessed to embezzling from Preferred Family HealthCare. Federal prosecutors said Cranford and other executives embezzled at least $4 million from Preferred Family between 2011 and January 2017.

His attorney declined to comment.

Of the lawmakers involved, Woods was convicted and is appealing his sentence. Wilkins and Jeremy Hutchinson have both pleaded guilty and are waiting to be sentenced.

Jeremy Hutchinson, the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, also pleaded guilty June 25 to conspiring to commit bribery involving an orthodontist who sought favorable legislation and to one count of filing a false tax return.

Former Rep. Micah Neal and former Rep. Eddie Cooper were also convicted of partnering with Cranford. Cooper had joined Cranford's lobbying firm after leaving office.

Preferred Family was one of Arkansas' largest Medicaid recipients for behavioral health services with 47 sites in the state before the scandal broke in 2017.

Cranford is expected to testify at the trial of his indicted employers, which is set for April 2021.

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Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com