As a lobbyist, Cranford cultivated relationships with state legislators on behalf of clients such as AO/PFH. At the same time, he earned a six-figure salary as executive of AO/PFH’s operations in Arkansas. He bribed at least four lawmakers between 2010 and 2016 to secure legislative acts favorable to AO/PFH and other clients, according to his May plea agreement.
Alternative Opportunities, a behavioral health nonprofit based in Springfield, Mo., became known as Preferred Family Healthcare after a 2014 merger. It became the largest provider of its kind in Arkansas during Cranford’s tenure. According to prosecutors, Cranford and other AO/PFH executives conspired to embezzle vast sums from the nonprofit over a series of years. In June, the state cut off PFH from Medicaid payments and other public funds, and it will end operations in the state Oct. 12. Another provider plans to acquire its Arkansas assets
A state senator from 2013 to 2017, Woods was found guilty in May on 15 of 17 counts in a public corruption trial. He directed a $275,000 state grant to a nonprofit incorporated by Cranford, who paid the senator kickbacks and arranged for his fiancee to be hired at an AO/PFH affiliate at an inflated salary. Woods was also involved in other corrupt schemes unrelated to Cranford, such as steering grants to Ecclesia College, a small Bible school in Springdale. On Sept. 5, Woods was sentenced to 18 years in prison; he plans to appeal.
Neal, a state representative from 2013 to 2017, was brought into the fold by Woods, according to his guilty plea last year. Neal admitted to steering state grants worth $125,000 to a nonprofit associated with Cranford in return for a $20,000 kickback. With Woods, he also schemed to steer hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants to Ecclesia College. On Sept. 13, a federal judge gave Neal a greatly reduced sentence of three years probation (including a year of home confinement), citing his extensive cooperation with federal prosecutors as grounds for leniency.
After serving as a state representative from 2005 to 2011, Cooper began working as a lobbyist with Cranford’s firm. From 2009 to 2017, he also worked as a regional director for AO/PFH. Cooper’s February guilty plea says he conspired with Cranford and other AO/PFH executives to execute “multiple schemes to embezzle, steal, and unjustly enrich themselves to the detriment of the Charity’s mission.”
Wilkins served in both legislative chambers from 1999 to 2015. In April, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to accept over $80,000 in bribes directed by Cranford to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, where Wilkins served as pastor. In return, Wilkins’ plea states, he steered “approximately $245,000” in state grants to his co-conspirators and sponsored bills benefiting AO/PFH.
Raveendran, a former PFH vice president, was arrested in June on state charges of defrauding Medicaid of almost $2.3 million through improper billing practices. Before being hired at PFH in 2014, he served for a decade as the chief administrator at DHS’ Program Integrity Unit. He joined Cranford’s lobbying firm in 2015, and the affidavit for his arrest states he was “one of Cranford’s closest associates.”
Cranford’s plea says Hutchinson received over $500,000 from 2012 to 2017 from Cranford, AO/PFH and Cranford’s other clients in return for favorable legislative action. A practicing attorney, Hutchinson was hired by AO/PFH beginning in April 2013 and paid handsome monthly retainer fees. He also worked as an attorney for South Arkansas Youth Services. On Aug. 31, he was indicted for alleged tax evasion and improper use of campaign funds — charges distinct from the bribery allegations described in Cranford’s plea. Hutchinson resigned his Senate seat but maintains his innocence. He served in the state House from 2000 to 2005 and had served in the Senate since 2011.
In addition to Noble, three other top executives at Alternative Opportunities / Preferred Family Healthcare have been described by federal prosecutors as “co-conspirators” of Cranford’s. They have not been named in court filings and none has been charged with a crime.
On Sept. 12, Noble admitted to concealing knowledge of a scheme to embezzle millions of dollars from Alternative Opportunities / Preferred Family Healthcare for the benefit of its executives. The stolen funds included over $17 million in excessive fees paid to top managers (including himself). Noble, who worked for the nonprofit for over 20 years, was removed removed from the PFH payroll only after an Arkansas Times story in July pointed out that he was implicated in others’ criminal plea deals.
Jones, a Philadelphia, Pa.,-based political operative, pleaded guilty in December to conspiring with Cranford, Cooper and other AO/PFH executives to engage in a kickback scheme, make illicit campaign contributions and engage in improper lobbying activities.
The former executive of SAYS, Walsh pleaded guilty in July to a conspiracy to divert the youth service nonprofit’s funds to pay retainers and legal fees to an unnamed “Senator C” in exchange for “official action to benefit Walsh [and] SAYS.” Cranford helped arrange the scheme, the plea says. In return, Cranford was paid unauthorized lobbying fees and his son was given a comfortable job at SAYS, despite failing a background check.
A state senator from 2009 to 2014, Lamoureux served as the chamber’s president pro tem from 2013 to 2014. During that time, Lamoureux acted as an attorney for South Arkansas Youth Services, according to an interview with former SAYS director Jerry Walsh. Walsh’s guilty plea says he hired an unnamed “Senator C” to do legal work for SAYS in 2013, at the advice of Cranford. That senator was paid more than $120,000. Lamoureux has denied wrongdoing.