A political operative who pleaded guilty Monday to a federal felony in Missouri was involved in a conspiracy with Arkansas lobbyists fitting the descriptions of Milton R. “Rusty” Cranford and former state Rep. Eddie Cooper of Melbourne.
Neither Cranford nor Cooper, who have not been charged with any crimes, could be reached for comment.
Arkansas Business previously identified Cranford as a participant in the kickback scheme to which former state Rep. Micah Neal pleaded guilty in January, and the Missouri prosecution of Donald Andrew Jones involves the same nonprofit health care provider that allegedly paid kickbacks to Neal: Alternative Opportunities Inc., which did business as Dayspring Behavioral Health Services.
Jones, 62, of Wilmington, New Jersey, waived indictment in the Western District of Missouri and pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy. He admitted conspiring with at least five other people to use nearly $1 million from AO — now part of Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. of Kirksville, Missouri — for personal enrichment and for direct political activity that is forbidden by tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.
Jones also agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating the conspiracy and any other crimes about which he has knowledge.
One of the co-conspirators, Person #4, is described as a resident of Rogers, a registered lobbyist affiliated with two lobbying firms, and an employee of AO. This appears to be Cranford, who was formerly CEO of AO’s Arkansas operations and who is a registered lobbyist who has been affiliated with The Cranford Coalition Inc. of Little Rock and Progressive Politics Inc. of Sherwood.
The Cranford Coalition appears to be the corporation referred to in Jones’ plea agreement as “Lobbying Firm A.” The other entity, referred to as “Lobbying Firm B,” may be Progressive Politics.
Another unindicted conspirator, “Person #7,” is described as a resident of Melbourne who was an Arkansas legislator from 2006-11 and a registered lobbyist from 2011 on. Person #7 was also a member of the Alternative Opportunities board of directors from 2009-2015 and an employee of AO from 2010 until February 2017
All of these identifying characteristics generally match with Cooper, although the Batesville Guard reported earlier this month that Cooper was fired in April, the day after he informed the AO board of directors of a pending federal investigation.