New Beginnings CEO Chirie Bazzelle Pleads Guilty to Obstruction

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Chirie Bazzelle, owner and CEO of New Beginnings Behavioral Health Services, has reached a plea agreement with the state attorney general’s office involving a misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental operations, the office said Tuesday.

Bazzelle, 46, was arrested in April 2019 for Medicaid fraud and tax evasion. Her company had been a Medicaid provider.

According to the plea agreement signed May 19, Bazzelle agreed to pay a $500 fine and court costs and $5,000 in restitution. She also agreed to testify against other defendants in the case.

More: Read the plea agreement.

Announcing the agreement on Tuesday, the Attorney General Leslie Rutledge office said Bazzelle failed to report contracts with lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford, Robin Raveendran, and her former husband, Michael Grimes, who is a convicted felon, resulting in the charge.

Raveendran is the former state auditor and former Preferred Family Healthcare director of program integrity and director of operations who is facing two counts of Medicaid fraud. Raveendran and Cranford pleaded guilty in a parallel federal public corruption case involving Preferred Family Healthcare and former state legislators.

The attorney general’s office said Cranford, Raveendran and other full-time employees of Preferred Family Healthcare allegedly helped Bazzelle turn New Beginnings into one of the state’s largest single-site mental health providers. New Beginnings billed the Medicaid program for more than $5.3 million in 2018.

Bazzelle has also been accused of continuing the employment of individuals who had been convicted of Medicaid fraud, ignoring fraud claims from other employees, giving a false statement to the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit during its investigation and attempting to evade taxes from 2014-19.

The attorney general’s Tuesday news release was unclear about the status for those charges. Arkansas Business will update this story.

“This culture of corruption has rampant through our Medicaid system and it must be stopped,” Rutledge said in a news release. “Bazzelle is another bad actor who should never be allowed to work in our health care system and people like her must be removed from their positions.”