Columns » Max Brantley

Where's the outrage?

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Am I the only person, apart from federal prosecutors, outraged about the criminal enterprise that inveigled itself into a privileged position as an Arkansas taxpayer-financed human services provider to the tune, today, of $43 million a year?

I refer to Preferred Family Healthcare Services, a Missouri-based nonprofit that provides Medicaid-financed behavioral health services in dozens of places around Arkansas.

Its business is at the core of former company executive/lobbyist Rusty Cranford's guilty plea to a federal bribery charge that involves bribes, kickbacks and illegal campaign contributions to win legislative support and direct cash grants to PFH and affiliates.

The scheme, the government says, included kickbacks to Republican Sen. Jon Woods from a planned state handout. Former Republican Rep. Micah Neal also admitted to scheming with Cranford to help PFH in return for kickbacks.

Cranford also bribed former Democratic legislator Hank Wilkins, funneling the money through a church Wilkins pastored. The company hired Eddie Cooper, a Democratic legislator, and he joined the criminal conspiracy.

At least one other former legislator was put on the payroll, but has not been charged.

Numerous legislators, as yet unaccused of crimes, gladly signed their name to state handouts to Cranford's organizations.

A Pennsylvania lobbyist pleaded guilty to funneling PFH money to politicians in illegal campaign contributions.

A Springfield accountant committed suicide after pleading guilty to charges related to ill-gotten money from PFA.

Three members of the nonprofit organization's leadership team were fired after the Pennsylvania lobbyist's guilty plea, but at least two others stayed on. One was just placed on leave last week after the Arkansas Times inquired about unflattering facts in Cranford's guilty plea about an unnamed company leader. It appears to be the same man.

Cranford has stipulated getting almost $4 million in illegal money from the operation.

After all this, PFH still draws down $43 million in taxpayer money. State officials suggest it is too big to fail. Governor Hutchinson has said almost nothing. Coincidentally, his nephew, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock), was paid $500,000 to help the company (legal fees, he says; something worse, the government intimates).

Democrats, with some of their own knotted up in the scandal, have done little better in seeking accountability.

The state put Ted Suhl's behavioral health agencies out of business when he was caught in a bribery scheme. Can no one else replace PFH? The state owes a full explanation.

The state also should have demanded long ago an audit of everything handed to PFH over the years, whether for Medicaid-reimbursed services or the badly abused General Improvement Fund grants and legislator-directed health grants. Was the money spent for purposes described?

If the organization could tap Medicaid for enough money to cover millions in bribes, kickbacks and illegal campaign contributions — not to mention fat salaries and high living on company credit cards — is it possible that payments now are too high?

If PFH really is too important to be fired, it's not too important to bypass thorough scrutiny.

PFH has brass. It claims IT is a victim. Really? No one had a clue about Cranford? There was reason not to ask questions. The pay was damn good.

In the most recently available tax filing, PFA pay to eight top officers ranged from $276,000 to almost $1 million. Cranford made a mere $276,000. But PFH also paid his private firm $547,000 for "public relations." His expenses — bribes and such — did run high.

The million-dollar head man, in charge while Cranford ran wild, is still in charge today, with no objection from the state Department of Human Services. Could we at least agree — innocent of crime though he may be — that he was a pisspoor supervisor?

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