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Arkansas corruption scandal duo released from prison early

Cranford and Paris will remain under the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons until their sentences are complete.
Credit: KFSM
Milton “Rusty” Cranford and Oren Paris III

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Two major figures involved in an Arkansas public corruption scandal have been released from federal prison to home confinement or a halfway house despite having significant time left on their sentences.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday that the federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed that it had Milton “Rusty” Cranford, and Oren Paris III 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 who meet certain criteria in order to ease burdens on the prison system during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Cranford and Paris will remain under the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons until their sentences are complete.

Former Ecclesia College President Oren Paris and consultant Randell Shelton were accused of funneling cash bribes in 2013-2014 to then-Sen. Jon Woods and former Rep. Micah Neal. In exchange, Woods directed over $715,000 in state grants to the college.

Neal pleaded guilty on Jan. 2017 to one count of conspiracy and cooperated with investigators extensively prior to the plea. Neal subsequently received one year of home confinement. Paris was scheduled to go to trial with Woods and Shelton but changed his plea to guilty the week before the trial started. Woods and Shelton are appealing their May 3 convictions.

The disputed evidence in the appeal involves the federal case against former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who is accused of misspending campaign funds and tax evasion.

Lawyers for Woods and Shelton say Hutchinson implicated their clients to federal investigators in 2014 and that the case against them stems from information improperly taken from a laptop in the possession of Hutchinson’s girlfriend.

Cranford was charged in a nine-count indictment unsealed Tuesday (Feb. 20), according to U.S. attorney Timothy A. Garrison.

In addition to the conspiracy, the indictment charges Cranford with eight counts of receiving a bribe by an agent of an organization that receives federal funds.

Cranford was being held without bond Wednesday (Feb. 21) at the Washington County Detention Center. He has a hearing set for 3 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 22) in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Ark.

Cranford was both a lobbyist and an employee of Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc.), a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Springfield.

Cranford served as an executive for the charity’s operations in the state of Arkansas. He also operated two lobbying firms, The Cranford Coalition and The Capital Hill Coalition, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

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