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story.lead_photo.caption Milton "Rusty" Cranford

Milton "Rusty" Cranford, a former Arkansas lobbyist who was sentenced in November to seven years in federal prison for his role in a fraud and bribery scheme involving Arkansas legislators, is expected to be released today to serve the final two-thirds of his sentence at home.

Cranford's attorney, Nathan Garrett of Kansas City, Mo., filed a motion Tuesday afternoon in the Western District of Missouri, where the 59-year-old Cranford was sentenced on Nov. 25, asking to withdraw a pending motion for compassionate release, based on coronavirus concerns, since the issue is now "moot."

"Defendant Cranford will be released to home confinement by the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Aug. 5," Garrett wrote.

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons responded to a reporter's inquiry about the possibility of Cranford being released this week by noting that Cranford has a projected release date of Feb. 9, 2024, and "or privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not discuss information about an individual inmate's conditions of confinement or release plans."

The question arose because of an Arkansas Times' blog post Monday saying "an anonymous source" had said Cranford was going to be released this week.

Garrett didn't return telephone calls from reporters Monday or Tuesday.

But in a motion filed April 28, Garrett asked U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes of Springfield, Mo., to allow Cranford to be released to home confinement, arguing that his age and health conditions make him susceptible to covid-19, which at that time hadn't been detected in the Texarkana prison's satellite camp, where he has been housed.

The motion noted that Cranford, who had served most of 26 months of incarceration at that point in "difficult conditions" at the Greene County jail, "a facility not intended for long-term incarceration," owns a home in Douglasville, Texas, near the Texarkana prison. Cranford was given credit at sentencing for the time he had already served in jail while awaiting trial.

"He would reside at his home and comply with monitoring during the course of confinement," Garrett wrote. "Family members are available to privately transport Mr. Cranford from the facility to his home. His children and other extended family live near Texarkana, as well."

The attorney noted that Attorney General William Barr had recently directed the bureau to increase the use of home confinement to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the prison system.

"If Mr. Cranford is released to home confinement, he will be able to isolate himself at home, in a rural setting, where he is much better able to protect himself from the virus and almost certain life-threatening complications he will suffer if exposed."

The motion said Cranford first sought release to home confinement through the prison itself, as inmates are required to exhaust administrative remedies before asking a court to intervene, and the bureau denied it, saying it would consider releasing only elderly inmates close to their release dates.

Then on April 10, Cranford was part of a group of inmates moved to quarantine and told they were being considered for home confinement or being moved to a halfway house, Garrett said. The inmates were to be released to either option within 14 days, but no action had been taken since then, even though the 14 days had expired, the attorney argued.

On May 7, federal prosecutors objected to the request, noting that the warden at the Texarkana prison had told Garrett on April 30 that he couldn't approve the request for home confinement in light of the bureau's rules.

The prosecutors also noted that on May 7, the bureau informed prosecutors that Cranford remained in quarantine and was "undergoing further review for possible transfer to home confinement." It said the Texarkana facility planned to forward Cranford's request to the bureau's headquarters in Washington, D.C., for further review, and that the bureau needed to know if Cranford's probation could be transferred from Missouri to the Eastern District of Texas.

The prosecutors said Cranford's ailments -- being pre-diabetic, having a long history of high blood pressure, reduced kidney function and a long history of bilateral pneumonia -- didn't constitute compelling enough circumstances to warrant his release.

They also said, "Less than six months ago, this court sentenced Mr. Cranford to 84 months' incarceration for his serious criminal conduct involving the theft and diversion of millions from a tax-exempt public charity, and his bribery of numerous elected officials. He has served only about 26 months. .... To now order that sentence reduced to time served would undermine the public's faith that the justice system holds accountable those who would commit crimes of public corruption."

According to Cranford's guilty plea, he spent almost $4 million making illegal campaign donations, kickbacks and other gifts to Arkansas lawmakers between 2011 and 2017 to ensure that his former employer, Preferred Family Healthcare, received grants, favorable legislation and relief from scrutiny. Company executives also committed Medicaid fraud to overcharge state taxpayers, according to related guilty pleas and indictments.

From fiscal 2011-18, Preferred Family received $245 million from Arkansas in Medicaid payments.

Federal prosecutors said Cranford and other executives embezzled from the nonprofit. Wimes held Cranford liable for returning $3.73 million in taxpayer money and approved the forfeiture of most of Cranford's assets, though the judge said the seizures would likely repay only a fraction of the total.

In the Eastern District of Arkansas, the vast majority of federal prisoners' requests for release related to concerns about the coronavirus are denied. But just last week, Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. granted such a request for Williams Jennings Bryant Axsom, who since 2010 had been serving a 15-year sentence for distributing child pornography.

Marshall granted the request despite opposition from prosecutors, noting that Axsom is now 75, has stage 4 chronic kidney disease for which he will soon need dialysis, has high blood pressure and other age-related ailments, and requires a wheelchair to get around. Marshall also noted that Axsom is housed at a federal medical facility in Fort Worth where 12 inmates have died from the coronavirus.

He ordered Axsom to be quarantined for two weeks after his release and then serve two years on home detention while under close supervision of probation officers.

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