Charged with Medicaid fraud in a separate case, a former healthcare executive pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to committing a conspiracy to bribe an Arkansas state senator. In exchange for the bribes, then-Arkansas State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson allegedly influenced public policy and pressured other public officials to take official action favorable to the charity and its executives.
Between 2014 and 2017, Robin Raveendran worked as an analyst, director of operations, and executive vice president at Preferred Family Healthcare (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities, Inc.). The nonprofit provides a variety of services to individuals in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois, including mental and behavioral health treatment and counseling, substance abuse treatment and counseling, employment assistance, aid to individuals with developmental disabilities, and medical services.
In early 2014, Raveendran, Hutchinson, and Milton “Rusty” Cranford, an Arkansas lobbyist and Preferred Family executive, formed Alliance for Health Care (also known as Alliance for Health Care Improvement), a private association that advocated for issues relevant to health care providers at the Arkansas state legislature and in state departments. According to Raveendran’s recent plea agreement, Preferred Family paid funds to Alliance, which Raveendran gave to Hutchinson in exchange for Hutchinson holding up agency budgets; initiating legislative audits; and sponsoring, filing, and voting for legislation favorable to Preferred Family.
Raveendran also admitted that he and others concealed evidence of the bribes by falsely describing such unlawful payments as being solely for attorney’s fees and legal retainers.
On June 28, 2018, Raveendran was charged with two counts of felony Medicaid fraud in a separate case. According to the affidavit for his arrest, Raveendran and others conspired to illegally charge Medicaid for almost $2.3 million from 2015 to 2017. Prior to joining Preferred Family in 2014, Raveendran spent nearly 30 years working as director of program integrity for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Medical Services, and then as business operations manager with the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General.
On April 11, Hutchinson, who served as a state senator in the Arkansas Senate from 2011 to 2018, and other Preferred Family executives were charged with participating in a conspiracy from 2005 to November 2017 to embezzle and misapply the funds of a charitable organization that received federal funds. In a separate case, Hutchinson also faces charges in Little Rock for illegal spending of campaign money and failure to pay income taxes.
On Wednesday, Raveendran pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. He could face up to five years in federal prison without parole and must pay $25,000 in restitution to the government.
In a statement to the Arkansas Times, Erin Cassinelli and Jordan Tinsley, attorneys for Raveendran, wrote: “By entering a guilty plea today, Mr. Raveendran began the process of righting a wrong by accepting responsibility for his role in a broader conspiracy to bribe a state legislator. After decades of public service, in 2014 Mr. Raveendran entered the private sector, where he was exposed to a culture of greed and corruption that was unfamiliar to him. Ultimately, he participated in a corrupt practice that had sadly become commonplace for many people in positions of public and private trust. Mr. Raveendran greatly regrets that his conduct threatened to undermine the democratic process that he holds in high esteem.”
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge stated, “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.”