Indicted lobbyist Rusty Cranford accused of plotting to kill co-conspirator | Arkansas Blog

Monday, March 12, 2018

Indicted lobbyist Rusty Cranford accused of plotting to kill co-conspirator

Posted By on Mon, Mar 12, 2018 at 8:12 PM

click to enlarge RUSTY CRANFORD: Potential crimes by the former lobbyist expand to include a violent allegation.
  • RUSTY CRANFORD: Potential crimes by the former lobbyist expand to include a violent allegation.
Whoa. Rusty Cranford, the former powerhouse lobbyist indicated for scheming to kick back a nonprofit's money for profit, bribes and political contributions, has now been named in federal court documents as plotting to kill a co-conspirator. He has not been charged, but the information is contained in a prosecutor's motion that Cranford be denied bail on an earlier charge.

Doug Thompson broke the story in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about further filings in Missouri. My own review of the documents produces conversations with a government informant and putative potential hit man worthy of a Mafia movie. At one point, Cranford admits to writing a lot of checks to politicians, but not doing anything "dirty."

The alleged murder target was D.A. Jones, a Pennsylvania consultant who's pleaded guilty to scheming to get money from Preferred Family Healthcare, the Medicaid-enriched nonprofit that made millions providing mental health and other services in Arkansas and neighboring states. Cranford once worked there, too.

Cranford has a bond hearing Thursday and prosecutors have said he should be denied bail because he's a flight risk and could be dangerous to others. According to court documents, as quoted by the D-G:

On Jan. 2, after Jones’ pleaded guilty but before Cranford’s arrest, Cranford called a felon of his acquaintance who isn’t named in court documents, according to Monday’s court filing. They arranged a meeting, which took place Jan. 9. That felon, identified in Monday’s filing as “Person A,” contacted federal authorities before the meeting took place. The meeting was secretly monitored and recorded by the FBI, according to Monday’s filing.

“He’s in Philadelphia. He’s in south Jersey. (Whispered) He needs to go away. He needs to be gone,” Cranford said of Jones, according to the FBI transcript of the Jan. 9 meeting. Monday’s court filing says “While making this statement to Person A, Person A told agents that Cranford used his hand to make a gun-shooting gesture.”

The murder-for-hire scheme is under investigation in the Western District of Arkansas and no charges for it have been filed as of yet, Monday’s court filing says.

Earlier court filings indicate Cranford played a role in the kickback scheme in which Republican Rep. Micah Neal and Republican Sen. Jon Woods are accused of working with others to channel a portion of state money aimed at Ecclesia College to themselves. Neal has pleaded guilty. Woods is awaiting trial.

Noted: David Hayes, a Springfield CPA accused of embezzling money from the same nonprofit, in part to pay another unnamed person, committed suicide in November.

The latest on Cranford could be good news for some Arkansas legislators — after a fashion. He had not yet entered a plea deal on his original indictment and speculation ran high that he might do so to get better treatment by testifying in Woods' case and perhaps others involving Arkansas legislators. He won't have much negotiating room if he's charged with murder conspiracy on top of the financial and political skulduggery.

Here's the government's motion to hold Cranford. Why they said he was a danger to flee:

The United States further respectfully submits that a preponderance of the evidence establishes there is a serious risk Cranford will flee, specifically the facts that: (1) in late January or early February, Cranford vacated his executive apartment in Bentonville, Arkansas, without having provided notice to his landlord, or leaving a forwarding address; (2) immediately prior to his arrest, Cranford sought to liquidate assets; (3) at the time of his arrest, Cranford was living at a house belonging to an associate, to which he could not be connected by any public records; (4) at the time of his arrest, Cranford was found to have altered his appearance by growing out and coloring his hair; (5) at the time of his arrest, Cranford had in his backpack a large  um of cash, specifically, $17,700.00, all in one-hundred-dollar bills; and (6) in addition to the charges set forth in the Indictment, Cranford is likely to face significant additional charges in more than one federal district, and advisory sentences of up to life imprisonment under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, should he be convicted

Click the link and read some lengthy taped conversations between Cranford and the man the feds think he hoped to hire for a hit. In the course of it, Cranford speaks of getting a man out of prison who'd killed someone in Fouke, Ark. He indicated he was hired to get the man out. And he did other work, which he insisted at one point wasn't dirty. Person A asks Cranford why he did the work for the Fouke killer.

Person A: What’s he to you? [Name redacted]?

Cranford: Oh nothin’. I tore up with him. I went to high school with him. That’s how he knew me. So that’s why his daddy and them hired me. So, those comments have been made – that there’s no way that he could have

Person A: Done anything.

Cranford: …accomplished all this shit without being dirty.

Person A: (coughing)

Cranford: Well f*ck that. Show me where I’m dirty. I mean, yeah, have I wrote a hell of a lot of-have I paid a hell of a lot of politicians? I sure have over the years. A shit load of money.

Person A: Umm-hmm

Cranford: But I’ve wrote them all checks, so there’s paper trail of everything I wrote.

Person A: Umm-hmm.

Cranford: If motherf*ckers tryin’ to buy somebody, they ain’t going to write ‘em a check for it.

Former Rep. Eddie Cooper of Melbourne, who's also pleaded guilty to participating in the Preferred Family scheme, made tape recordings of conversations with Cranford, too. He described Cranford as a cocaine user and heavy gambler — one call by Cooper was answered by Cranford at the Horseshoe Casino in Shreveport. He said Cranford bets hundreds of thousands on individual bets.

There's also in the federal document talk of an illegally obtained gun, a search of a safe at Cranford's house for valuables, a Cranford skip from a Bentonville "executive" apartment and dickering over a house in Florida partly owned by Cranford. But Cranford also was not well-fixed. Agents found papers seeking to apply for a loan on his life insurance at the time of his arrest.

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