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Dirty Politicians

Senior Director of Strategic Alliances
LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Normally, knowing the right people and having the right connections can help a company flourish.  (That is if your connections are not corrupt politicians, fellow fraudsters, or greedy businessmen.)

The Medicaid scandal that is rocking Little Rock, Arkansas involves former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson and CEO of New Beginnings Behavioral Health Services LLC, Chirie Bazzelle.

Bazzelle made false claims in 2018 to the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit during their investigation.

Bazzelle falsely asserted had no knowledge of then Sen. Hutchinson sending a letter to the Department of Human Services Division of Behavioral Health on behalf of New Beginnings. This letter requested that her company be allowed to operate in Cleveland County.

The truth is that Bazzelle had reviewed and edited the letter via email prior to Hutchinson submitting it. (If you don’t want there to be evidence of your criminal activities don’t document it in an email.) This is one of the many instances in which Hutchinson is accused of carrying out political favors for associates in exchange for monetary gain.

New Beginnings also hid their association with lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford, and former Department of Human Services Auditor, Robin Raveendran. Cranford and Raveendran used their roles as executives of Preferred Family Healthcare to help make New Beginnings become one of the state’s “go to” mental health providers.

Hutchinson supposedly accepted bribes from Cranford and Raveendran in exchange for legislation and political favors that would benefit Preferred Family Healthcare and by extension News Beginning Behavioral Health Services. (Looks like he preferred money over upholding his oath to protect the people he swore to serve.) New Beginnings, which was an approved Medicaid provider, was reimbursed more than $5 million dollars for the services they provided.

One of the items of legislation that Hutchinson was allegedly bribed to influence was Senate Bill 472. This bill would allow the Arkansas Department of Corrections to offer a contract to a company that would provide vocational and wellbeing services to inmates.

Hutchinson consulted with Tom and Bontiea Goss, executives of Preferred Family Healthcare, and Cranford about changing the wording of the bill to favor Preferred Family Healthcare. During the time the bill was being drafted and passed, Preferred Family Healthcare issued seven checks for $9,000 each to Hutchinson. (Yo’du think the price to sell your soul and your political future would be higher.)

Bazzelle pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing government operations as part of a plea bargain. Without her plea bargain, Bazelle would have faced three more serious charges related to health care fraud. She is also subject to paying a $500 fine. (I suspect we will see Bazzelle testify against the bigger fish involved in this fraud.)

Cranford and Raveendran both pleaded guilty to in a federal corruption case involving Preferred Family Healthcare, Hutchinson, and at least six other former Arkansans legislators. Former Sen. Hutchinson pleaded guilty to earlier public corruption charges involving Preferred Family Healthcare and others and awaits sentencing. The remaining people involved in this scheme are awaiting trial. (Maybe they’ll find their new beginnings in prison.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “Guilty plea entered in Medicaid fraud case”, published by Arkansas Times on July 14, 2020.

Chirie Bazzelle, owner and CEO of New Beginnings Behavioral Health Sevices has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing government operations in the course of a Medicaid fraud investigation.

This case arose from an allegation that she hadn’t been truthful when she said she didn’t know then-Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) had written a letter seeking permission for her agency to operate in Cleveland County. The plea is a result of a plea bargain in which the state dropped three other more serious charges and she received a $500 fine on the misdemeanor.

Additional article: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/nov/06/ex-execs-nonprofit-face-new-charges-case-tied-form/

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