Health executive says he bribed Arkansas governor's nephew

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A former health care executive admitted Wednesday to taking part in a conspiracy to bribe a former Arkansas lawmaker who is also the governor's nephew, in a widening corruption probe that's ensnared several legislators and lobbyists.

Robin Raveendran, 63, pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Missouri to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. The former executive vice president of Preferred Family Healthcare said he and others bribed former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson in exchange for the lawmaker backing legislative actions that benefit Preferred Family.

An attorney for Hutchinson declined to comment.

Hutchinson has pleaded not guilty to bribery charges in a separate case involving Preferred Family. He is among several lawmakers in Arkansas caught up in corruption investigations since early 2017.

Hutchinson is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson and the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The plea was announced the day after a federal judge concluded a two-day hearing over Hutchinson's efforts to toss separate charges that he spent thousands of dollars in campaign funds on personal expenses that included a Caribbean cruise, tuition payments and groceries. Hutchinson has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

According to Raveendran's plea agreement, Preferred Family paid funds to Alliance for Health Care, a private association formed by Raveendran, Hutchinson and Rusty Cranford, a lobbyist who pleaded guilty last year to bribing Hutchinson and two other former lawmakers. Raveendran directed Alliance funds to Hutchinson in exchange for action on behalf of Preferred Family Health that included voting for legislation, holding up agency budgets and initiating legislative audits, according to the agreement.

A sentencing hearing hasn't been scheduled for Raveendran, who faces up to five years in prison without parole. Under the plea agreement, he must pay $25,000 restitution to the government.

Raveendran was arrested last year on state felony charges of defrauding the state's Medicaid program by $2.2 million. He was accused of coordinating an effort that reimbursed Preferred Family for more than 20,000 illegally billed mental health services.

"Raveendran's plea based on his egregious criminal conduct underscores our decision to charge him initially for Medicaid fraud following our extensive investigation involving millions of documents," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement.


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