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story.lead_photo.caption Milton "Rusty" Cranford

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Former lobbyist Milton "Rusty" Cranford received a seven-year prison sentence Monday for his role in a bribery scandal that also led to the convictions of five Arkansas legislators.

The investigation is not over, federal officials have said.

Cranford appeared before U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes in Springfield because that is where his former employer, Preferred Family Healthcare, is based.

Cranford spent almost $4 million making illegal campaign donations, kickbacks and other gifts to Arkansas lawmakers between 2011 to 2017 to ensure the nonprofit behavioral health provider received grants, favorable legislation and relief from scrutiny, according to his guilty plea. Company executives also committed Medicaid fraud to overcharge state taxpayers, according to guilty pleas and indictments in the case.

From fiscal 2011 to 2018, Preferred Family received $245 million in Medicaid payments, one-third more than the state's second-largest provider during that time, according to state data.

Cranford and other executives embezzled from the nonprofit company, according to federal prosecutors. Cranford alone is liable for returning $3.73 million in taxpayer money, Wimes ruled Monday.

"I would like to say I'm sorry for anyone hurt by my bad choices," Cranford told the judge. He added he was deeply sorry for his three children.

Wimes agreed to Cranford's request to serve his sentence at the federal prison in Texarkana, Texas, so his children could visit him. The judge noted the sentence could have been longer. Cranford faced up to 10 years in prison.

"I hope this helps others to realize that they should help weed out not only corruption, but other crimes," Wimes said. "This is not a light sentence, but it is a heck of a lot lighter than it could have been."

Cranford, 60, has been in the Greene County, Mo. jail in Springfield since his Feb. 21, 2018, arrest at his home in Bentonville. He was denied bond in part because he discussed having a co-conspirator killed before his arrest.

Wimes gave Cranford credit for the 22 months he has been in jail. He sentenced him to three years of probation.

Cranford pleaded guilty to one count of federal program bribery on June 7.

EARLIER:

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A lobbyist who pleaded guilty to bribing three former Arkansas state lawmakers, including the governor's nephew, is set for sentencing in federal court in Missouri.

Rusty Cranford could face up to 10 years in federal prison Monday for bribing Republican Sen. Jon Woods, Democratic Rep. Hank Wilkins and Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. Prosecutors say Cranford paid the bribes to benefit the Missouri-based nonprofit Preferred Family HealthCare, whose former executives also face charges.

[RELATED: Scheme said to net $3.73M for Cranford » arkansasonline.com/news/2019/nov/23/scheme-said-to-net-3-73m-for-cranford-2/]

Of the lawmakers involved, Woods was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Wilkins and Hutchinson have both pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Hutchinson is the nephew of Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

In court papers filed Friday, prosecutors said Cranford received more than $3.7 million in the scheme and that he should repay that money.

— The Associated Press

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