Another shoe has dropped in an ongoing federal bribery investigation after longtime Arkansas lobbyist Milton Russell Cranford was charged Wednesday (Feb. 21) for his part in a Springfield, Mo., charity bribery scheme that has already entrapped a former state lawmaker and a Pennsylvania executive.
Timothy Garrison, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced on Wednesday afternoon that Cranford, 56, of Rogers, was indicted by a federal grand jury for his role in a nearly $1 million bribery conspiracy involving a Springfield, Mo., health care organization.
According to Garrison’s office, Cranford was charged in a nine-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo. That indictment was unsealed and made public Wednesday after the longtime lobbyist was arrested. An initial court appearance is scheduled Thursday (Feb. 22) in the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville. Garrison cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented during a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
Cranford’s indictment was not a surprise after former state Rep. Eddie Wayne Cooper of Melbourne waived his right to a jury a week ago and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Rush to charges of one count of conspiracy to embezzle from Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. of Springfield.
The indictment alleges that Cranford and co-conspirator Cooper, a Democrat who served in the Arkansas General Assembly from 2006 through 2011, received $264,000 in secret kickback payments from co-conspirator Donald Andrew Jones, also known as “D.A.” Jones, of Willingboro, N.J., who was paid nearly $1 million by the charity in a bribery scheme that lasted almost six years, from February 2011 until January 2017.
On Dec. 18, Jones waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Rush to charges that he participated in the conspiracy to steal from the Missouri nonprofit that received millions in federal funds.
Cranford was a lobbyist and an employee of Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc.), a nonprofit corporation based in Springfield. Cranford served as an executive for the charity’s operations in Arkansas. Cranford also operated two lobbying firms, The Cranford Coalition and The Capital Hill Coalition.
Cooper worked for The Cranford Coalition as a lobbyist and held a full-time position as regional director for Preferred Family Healthcare. Jones was a Philadelphia, Penn.-based political operative who owned and operated the firm, D.A. Jones & Associates, which purported to provide political and advocacy services, including consulting, analysis, and public relations. Neither Cooper nor Jones are charged in the indictment with Cranford; they each have pleaded guilty in separate cases.
Cranford allegedly recommended to the charity’s chief financial officer, chief operating officer and CEO to enter into a contractual arrangement with Jones for lobbying and advocacy services. Cranford influenced the charity in its award of the contract, the indictment says, then demanded payments to himself and Cooper of a portion of the funds Jones obtained from the charity in exchange for Cranford’s influence on Jones’s behalf.
According to the indictment, the charity paid Jones $973,807 to provide advocacy services for the charity, including direct contact with legislators, legislators’ offices, and government officials, to influence elected and appointed public officials to the financial benefit of the charity, including attempting to steer grants and other sources of funding to the charity. Jones allegedly paid $264,000 to Cranford and Cooper. Most of the funds were paid to Cranford or one of his firms, the indictment says.
In addition to the conspiracy, the indictment charges Cranford with eight counts of receiving a bribe by an agent of an organization that receives federal funds. The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require Cranford to forfeit to the government all property derived from the proceeds of the alleged offenses.
Cranford’s indictment and Cooper’s guilty plea just over a week ago have been a hot topic during the ongoing fiscal session at the State Capitol as lawmakers and lobbyists wonder if there will be other indictments or guilty pleas in the ongoing investigation.
“Everybody knew the Cranford indictment was coming, and there is a lot of nervousness and talk about who may be next (lawmaker or lobbyist) who gets a call from the FBI,” said a government relations representative for a Little Rock-based firm.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mohlhenrich. It was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the FBI and the Offices of the Inspectors General from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and the FDIC. This is a combined investigation with the Western District of Arkansas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.