Corruption scandal figures given release; Cranford, Paris to finish time out of prison

Milton "Rusty" Cranford (left) and Oren Paris III are shown in this undated composite photo.

The federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed Thursday that two major players in a public corruption scandal involving state legislators have been released to home detention or a halfway house despite having months or years left on their sentences.

The bureau confirmed that Milton "Rusty" Cranford, 59, a former Arkansas lobbyist who in November was sentenced to seven years in prison by a federal judge in Missouri, was released Wednesday from the federal prison camp in Texarkana. Although he served less than eight months in prison for fraud and bribery convictions, he was given credit for about 18 months he spent in jail before pleading guilty.

A spokesman also confirmed that on April 22, Oren Paris III of Springdale, former president of Ecclesia College, was released from a medium-security prison in Marion, Ill., to home confinement or a halfway house under the supervision of the prison's Dallas office.

Paris, 52, pleaded guilty April 4, 2018, in federal court in Fayetteville to a conspiracy charge, admitting he paid kickbacks to former state Sen. Jon Woods and then-state Rep. Micah Neal, both of Springdale, in return for $550,000 in state grants to Ecclesia from 2013 to 2015. The kickbacks were routed through the consulting business of Randell Shelton Jr. of Kemp, Texas, who was a friend of Woods and Paris.

Paris was sentenced on Sept. 17, 2018, to three years in prison, and on March 31, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis upheld his conviction, then in June denied his request for a rehearing.

A federal jury convicted Woods and Shelton of several corruption charges on May 3, 2018. They are serving sentences of 18 years and six years, respectively. Neal served a year of home detention.

Cranford admitted to a federal judge in Springfield, Mo., that 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. Cranford has been ordered to repay $3.73 million in taxpayer funds.

Both Cranford and Paris were released by the prison system on its own accord, rather than at the direction of federal judges. The bureau has been under orders from Attorney General William Barr to release nonviolent offenders meeting certain criteria, to ease burdens on the prison system as a result of the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the bureau said prisoners don't have to ask to be released under the directive in order to be considered for it.

Cranford had also sought release through the court, citing ailments that included high blood pressure and previous bouts of pneumonia that he said made him particularly susceptible to the coronavirus, should it descend on the inmate population in Texarkana. Prosecutors opposed the request, and said no prisoners at the facility had tested positive.

The judge hadn't ruled on the request when Cranford's attorney, Nathan Garrett of Kansas City, Mo., filed a motion Tuesday to withdraw the request, saying it was now moot since the prison had decided to release Cranford the following day.

The prisoners who are released to home detention or a halfway house remain under the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons until their sentences are complete.