Kickback probe pops up as issue in lobbyist's divorce case | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 3, 2017

Kickback probe pops up as issue in lobbyist's divorce case

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 11:18 AM

click to enlarge COURT MATTERS: Lobbyist Rusty Cranford (shown in a Facebook photo at a state commission meeting with Sen. Linda Chesterfield) has been linked to the federal probe that produced an additional indictment this week. That's mentioned in his pending divorce case.
  • COURT MATTERS: Lobbyist Rusty Cranford (shown in a Facebook photo at a state commission meeting with Sen. Linda Chesterfield) has been linked to the federal probe that produced an additional indictment this week. That's mentioned in his pending divorce case.
The General Assembly and the federal probe of kickbacks in spending of General Improvement Fund money in 2013 and 2015 figure in the divorce case of a lobbyist and nonprofit executive who's been linked to the case.

The divorce case is one brought by Karen Cranford against Milton "Rusty" Cranford. He's a registered lobbyist and has served as an officer of nonprofit agencies that have received GIF money funneled through more than one planning and development district. We've noted those links before.  And also his  overseeing applications for GIF money including almost $60,000 in two separate grants to provide Christmas and Thanksgiving meals to needy people. Subpoenas I discovered in the case showed that information had been sought by the grand jury about Cranford and an agency, Decision Point, he worked for.

He's been charged with no crime and is not accused by name in either of the two sets of charges filed so far. But some of the information laid out in the indictment this week of former Sen. Jon Woods, the Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III and a businessman, Randell Shelton Jr., a friend of Woods and Paris, match up with information on the public record about money sent to Cranford-affiliated entities on his applications. The presumption has been that he's being looked at in the kickback probe, too. He'd have knowledge of GIF spending not only in Northwest Arkansas but around the state.

His involvement is mentioned in his divorce case, filed Oct. 28 in Benton County. On Jan. 13, Cranford's attorney, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, asked for a continuance in the case on account of his work in the General Assembly. That drew an objection from Karen Cranford's attorney, Brian Burke. Filed Jan. 24, it acknowledges a provision in law to accommodate lawyers in the General Assembly, but continues:

Defendant has been linked to a federal criminal investigation regarding the disbursement of General Improvement Fund money. Whether Defendant has been indicted is not a matter of public record, although Defendant has been identified in matters relating to a kickback scheme to which former state senator Micah Neal has pleaded guilty.

The parties' marital estate is significant, including assets outside of the State of Arkansas, the extent and degree of which are largely unknown to Plaintiff. To stay the proceedings in this matter would prevent Plaintiff's ability to discover such assets and marital liabilities.

This matter needs to be set for a temporary hearing to establish Defendant's obligations to pay child support and spousal support to Plaintiff. To stay proceedings in this matter would prevent Plaintiff from seeking any temporary relief, to her detriment and to the detriment of the parties' minor children, while enabling Defendant to spend down assets in which Plaintiff has a martial interest.

For the reasons stated above, staying these proceedings will work a manifest injustice on Plaintiff and the parties' minor children, and will ultimately put the marital estate at risk of being spent down and/or squandered. Given the uncertainty as to the adjournment of the General Assembly, this matter should not be stayed.

Rather, the Court should remove Jeremy Hutchinson as Defendant's attorney and order Defendant to secure substitute counsel.

According to the court record online, the judge hasn't ruled on either motion. A trial in the case is set March 27. Hutchinson said he had no information about Cranford apart from that related to the divorce case and he was prevented from talking about that as his attorney.

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