Arkansas Business reports here on a federal court filing Wednesday that shows a second person has pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme to help a mental health contractor of the state Department of Human Services.
Phillip Carter, a former West Memphis councilman and juvenile probation officer, pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Steven Jones, a former legislator from Marion and state DHS official. Jones pleaded guilty earlier and is awaiting sentencing. An unidentified West Memphis pastor also was said to be a participant in funneling money from a mental health care company, unidentified in the federal charges but identified by state officials as the businesses of Ted Suhl. His inpatient facility at Warm Springs — Trinity Behavioral Health Services, once known as the Lord’s Ranch — and a statewide counseling business were cut off from state reimbursement by Medicaid after the investigation became public.
It is another case — like that of former Judge Mike Maggio — where the federal government has won a guilty plea from someone who said they accepted a bribe but hasn’t charged anyone with actually making the bribe. Maggio said he took campaign contributions to influence his decision to reduce a judgment in a nursing home negligence case. It’s a matter of record that former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker rounded up money from nursing home owner Michael Morton for Maggio’s campaign and those of many other judges, including significant amounts for newly elected Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood. A nursing home owned by Morton had its penalty reduced from $5.2 million to $1 million by Maggio. Morton and Baker have not been charged with anything or named in the Maggio charge and both have said they’ve done nothing wrong.
Meanwhile back at Ted Suhl: His Trinity home continues to operate in Warm Springs, but without paying customers from Arkansas. A DHS spokesman told me this week that there are currently three residents at the facility, which the state still inspects for compliance with rules pertaining to residential mental health facilities.
Phillip Carter, earlier involved in an absentee vote buying scheme, will be sentenced next February.
The charge details a four-year bribery scheme, laundering payments from the health care company through the unnamed pastor’s church, to be turned over to Jones, less some payments to participants. Jones provided information useful to the health care company’s business about internal matters at DHS.
The information says that the targeted health care operator was under surveillance when he handed a $2,000 check to Carter in a Memphis restaurant when Jones left the table. Carter put the check in his sock.