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story.lead_photo.caption In this file photo former Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is shown arriving at the federal courthouse in Little Rock. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

A Little Rock mental health care provider who was charged last month with Medicaid fraud filed a lawsuit against former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson and his former law partners, adding another layer to Hutchinson's legal troubles.

New Beginnings Behavioral Health Services CEO Chirie Bazzelle's five-page complaint, filed Monday afternoon in Pulaski County Circuit Court, accuses the Little Rock Republican of negligence and breach of the ethical duty of loyalty.

The lawsuit says Hutchinson failed to do contracted legal work on Bazzelle's personal-injury case, including that he told her he was "working on it" even after the three-year time frame in which to file a lawsuit had passed.

Monday's filing also says Hutchinson didn't disclose to Bazzelle he simultaneously represented one of her consultants, Robin Raveendran, which the suit says created a conflict when she asked Hutchinson to resolve a dispute between New Beginnings and Raveendran.

Hutchinson, 45, who resigned from the Senate Aug. 31, pleaded not guilty to two dozen criminal charges alleged by grand juries in two federal courts -- one in the Eastern District of Arkansas and the other in the Western District of Missouri.

Bazzelle's lawsuit also adds to the larger web of civil and criminal cases spun from a wide-ranging federal public corruption probe in Arkansas and Missouri.

That investigation entangled Hutchinson and has netted plea agreements by -- or convictions of -- five other former lawmakers and several former executives and employees of Missouri-based Preferred Family Healthcare, which was once Arkansas' largest provider of Medicaid-funded outpatient mental health treatment.

Tim Dudley, part of the team representing Hutchinson in the two federal criminal cases, said Monday afternoon he hadn't seen Bazzelle's complaint.

"I wouldn't have any comment even if I did review it," Dudley said.

Bazzelle's complaint also names the Steel, Wright, Gray law firm of Little Rock in connection with the breach of the ethical duty of loyalty complaint. Hutchinson no longer works for the firm, but had been a partner beginning in early 2016. A message left at the firm's office Monday wasn't returned.

Keidra Brewer of The Firm in Little Rock filed the suit on behalf of Bazzelle, who's seeking a jury trial and punitive damages.

The suit comes 10 days after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office charged Bazzelle with Medicaid fraud and attempted tax evasion.

Investigators accused Bazzelle of not reporting contracts with former Arkansas lobbyist Milton "Rusty" Cranford, Raveendran and others, according to an 11-page affidavit.

Cranford pleaded guilty in June to a federal bribery charge on accusations he paid Arkansas lawmakers, including Hutchinson, in exchange for favorable legislative treatment for Preferred Family.

Raveendran worked for the Arkansas Department of Human Services for 30 years and was working in the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General when he retired in February 2014. By May 2014, he was working as a vice president for Preferred Family and a consultant for New Beginnings, according to the affidavit charging Bazzelle.

Separately, Rutledge's office charged Raveendran and other former Preferred Family employees with Medicaid fraud over improper billing processes investigators accused Raveendran of ordering. Raveendran's case is pending.

Bazzelle's lawsuit says Raveendran "duped" Bazzelle into underwriting an association he formed called Alliance for Health Improvement and New Beginnings was "defrauded" by Cranford and Raveendran.

The attorney general's documents charging Bazzelle said she paid the two men at least 5% of New Beginnings' weekly Medicaid earnings from 2014 to 2016.

Bazzelle in 2016 turned to Hutchinson to help her resolve a dispute with Raveendran, whom Hutchinson also represented, according to the lawsuit.

"Hutchinson should have disclosed his conflict as attorney for both entities instead of breaching his ethical obligations to each firm while pretending to be working to resolve the dispute between them," it says.

The lawsuit also says Hutchinson failed to represent Bazzelle in a personal-injury matter despite telling her he would handle the case.

Bazzelle was injured in a traffic crash in December 2012, hospitalized for two weeks and unable to walk for three months, the suit says. Hutchinson learned of the crash in 2014 and told Bazzelle he would either negotiate a settlement with the other party or file suit.

Even after the legal deadline to file a complaint lapsed in December 2015, Hutchinson still told Bazzelle he was "working on it," the suit says.

A federal grand jury in Little Rock indicted Hutchinson in August on 12 counts of wire and tax fraud, accusing him of misspending campaign contributions and underreporting his income on federal tax forms.

Separately, a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., indicted Hutchinson on March 29 on 12 criminal counts in connection to his work for Preferred Family, including engaging in a criminal conspiracy with two of the nonprofit's former executives and others.

In that case, Hutchinson is accused of 11 crimes aside from the conspiracy charge: one count of receiving bribes, three counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds and seven counts of honest-services fraud.

NW News on 05/07/2019

Print Headline: Former Arkansas senator sued by exec

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  • seitan
    May 7, 2019 at 7:07 a.m.

    At some point, we really need to lock up some of these Hutchinsons, as they seem to be a threat to the public.

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