Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has announced the arrest of Chirie Bazzelle, owner of New Beginnings Behavioral Health Services, on Medicaid fraud charges related in part to contracts with others arrested previously in the sprawling public corruption probe involving Preferred Family Healthcare.
A news release from Rutledge said Bazzelle, 46, of Benton, had failed to report contracts with Rusty Cranford, the former lobbyist and PFH executive who’s pleaded guilty to bribery and other charges; Robin Raveendran, a former state Human Services official and former PFH executive, and Michael Grimes, Bazzelle’s former husband, described by Rutledge as a convicted felon.
The release accuses Bazelle of employing people convicted of Medicaid fraud and ignoring Medicaid fraud by others. She is also accused of attempting to evade taxes from January 2014 through February 2019, Rutledge said.
New Beginnings, operating in Little Rock and owned by Bazzelle since 2010, provides outpatient mental health services in Pulaski and Cleveland counties to children and others who, according to its website, “struggle with trauma, anger management, anxiety, depression, grief, and relationship problems, to name a few.”
The corruption probe has produced charges and guilty pleas and convictions at both the federal and state level. State officials have charged Raveendran and two others who worked at the same agency, Helen Balding and Vicki Chisam. The overall probe has turned up millions in misspent money, primarily from Medicaid revenue.
The latest charges will be prosecuted in Pulaski County.
Bazzelle was appointed to the state Board of Examiners in Counseling by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2017. A profile in Arkansas Business described her as being the only woman and only African-American to own a behavioral health company in Arkansas when she bought New Beginnings in 2010.
UPDATE: The affidavit filed to support the arrest is interesting reading. It details significant sums derived from Medicaid payments to lobbyists and others, including former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, already facing federal charges for bribery in the PFH scandal. It says Hutchinson received $76,000 from New Beginnings over the years of 2014 and 2015.