FBI: Rusty Cranford Tried to Hire Hit Man

FBI: Rusty Cranford Tried to Hire Hit Man
Milton R. "Rusty" Cranford (Greene County, Missouri, Sheriff's Office)

Milton R. "Rusty" Cranford of Rogers, a former Arkansas lobbyist and health care executive, was recorded trying to hire an acquaintance to murder a co-defendant who had pleaded guilty in an embezzlement and corruption case in Missouri, according to documents filed in federal court on Monday.

Cranford has not been charged with soliciting murder. But federal prosecutors in Missouri told the court he is "likely to face significant additional charges in more than one federal district" that could carry "advisory sentences of up to life imprisonment" even without being charged with witness tampering or attempted murder for hire.

Among the likely charges are "a conspiracy to divert millions of dollars from a public charity for bribery, kickbacks, and other unlawful purposes." This may refer to Cranford's alleged role in the General Improvement Fund kickback scandal in Arkansas that has resulted in a guilty plea by former state Rep. Micah Neal of Springdale and the pending indictment of former state Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale.

A transcript of the Jan. 9 conversation between Cranford and an FBI informant he tried to hire as a hit man is included in the motion prosecutors filed in an effort to keep Cranford in jail while he awaits trial, which was first reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Cranford was indicted Feb. 20 on one count of conspiracy and eight counts of bribery in a case pending in the Western District of Missouri, where the mental health care provider he worked for is headquartered. The object of his alleged murder-for-hire scheme is Donald Andrew "D.A." Jones, who had pleaded guilty in December to the embezzlement scheme against Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. of Kirksville, Missouri. PFH was formerly known as Alternative Opportunities Inc. and did business in Arkansas as Dayspring.

Former state Rep. Eddie Cooper, who worked for both AO/PFH and Cranford, pleaded guilty to his role in the embezzlement scheme in February. Another director of PFH, David Carl Hayes, pleaded guilty in the Missouri case last June.

The documents made public Monday, including an affidavit by Special Agent Micah Sexton of the Texarkana FBI office, indicate that an FBI informant with a long criminal history called Cranford, a longtime acquaintance, in mid-December "on [his] own volition." During that conversation, which was not recorded, Cranford suggested that he had a job for the informant, who then contacted the FBI.

In a subsequent phone conversation that was not recorded, according to the affidavit, Cranford offered to provide the informant a gun. Cranford gave the informant five $100 bills at the Jan. 9 meeting at the informant's home, which was recorded on video by the FBI.

When Cranford was arrested on Feb. 21, he "possessed a 45-caliber derringer-style pistol, which was still in the box, and had in his backpack a large sum of cash, specifically, $17,700.00, all in one-hundred-dollar bills," according to the government's motion to keep him in custody.

What's more, Cranford had "sought to liquidate assets" and "was living at a house belonging to an associate, to which he could not be connected by any public records." He had also "altered his appearance by growing out and coloring his hair," prosecutors said.

Kathryn Platt of Fayetteville, Cranford's defense attorney of record, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.

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