This just appeared on the federal court docket in the case of Rusty Cranford, the lobbyist and former health agency executive, accused of bribing Arkansas legislators to advance his business interests.

NOTICE OF HEARING as to Milton Russell Cranford. This is the official notice for this hearing. Change of Plea Hearing set for 6/7/2018 10:00 AM in MJ Courtroom, Springfield (DPR) before Magistrate Judge David P. Rush.This is a TEXT ONLY ENTRY. No document is attached.(Schroeppel, Kerry) (Entered: 06/01/2018)

I’ll be attempting to get more details.


This particular case concerns kickbacks and illegal campaign contributions by Cranford and others in a Missouri-based healthcare organization.

Most recently, Cranford’s trial was delayed  until September in part because of expectation that a new indictment would add new charges against him in addition to those already pending.


The investigation involving Cranford has many parts, but it has connections to guilty pleas of former Arkansas legislators Eddie Cooper, Hank Wilkins and Micah Neal and the recent conviction at trial of former Sen. Jon Woods and his friend Randell Shelton, convicted in a kickback scheme with Ecclesia College president Oren Paris that relied on state General Improvement Fund money. As yet, Cranford hasn’t been charged directly in the Arkansas legislative cases.

Rumors have swirled for years that the scandal spreads to legislators other than those charged so far. A plea change generally means a defendant has an agreement to provide something to the government in return for admission of guilt and, perhaps, cooperation in other cases.


A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Springfield said there was “nothing I can add” to the docket entry except to confirm it. In that Cranford has pleaded innocent previously, the likelihood is a coming guilty plea. I suggested a “no contest” plea was also a possibility, to which the spokesman commented that he recalled only one case of such a plea in 16 years in the office.

I’ve been unable to reach Cranford’s attorney. Cranford is in custody pending trial.

If Cranford, who had initially pleaded not guilty, is about to cooperate with the government, a key question becomes what bigger fish could he deliver. It might not be legislators, of course. There’s a lingering issue that puts the state in a bad light from where I sit. A company that billed states (and mostly Medicaid) for tens of millions of dollars and was deep in schemes that diverted money to illegal purposes — campaign contributions, kickbacks and lavish living by some executives — STILL has millions in state Medicaid business in Arkansas and elsewhere. Preferred Family Healthcare says it’s cleaned house and can’t be held responsible for the past. The state seems to buy that. But the state moved swiftly when another Medicaid-funded healthcare provider was charged in a bribery scheme. It instantly stopped business with Ted Suhl’s companies, long before he went to trial and was convicted. Nothing like that has happened in this case.

PS: Jim Parsons yesterday got a law firm for Ecclesia College to capitulate to his FOI lawsuit and provide records on how state money it received was spent. Indications are that surplus money went to the college, incorporated as a church, to buy land, less kickbacks to legislators. A law firm including Rep. Bob Ballinger, one of those Republican lawmakers who helped funnel hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to Ecclesia, had fought the release of the information on behalf of the college. Parsons said the material is voluminous and he’s working his way through it. He promises to share interesting findings. Meanwhile, others have sought the material provided to Parsons as well.