It was a long time coming, but Ted Suhl, once the operator of a multi-million-dollar health care organization that had powerful political influence in Arkansas, has been indicted for bribery by a federal Grand Jury in Arkansas. A six-count indictment was returned last night.
Suhl was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud, three counts of honest services fraud, one count federal funds bribery and one count of interstate travel in aid of bribery.
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He’s scheduled for arraignment at 10 a.m. Dec. 15 in federal magistrate’s court. He is not in custody but will appear in court on a summons that day. Over years of tracking Suhl’s activities, he’s never responded to a request for comment. I wrote one of his attorneys yesterday for comment and got no response.
The Suhl investigation has been publicly known for more than a year. It was reported in November 2014 that a federal judge had refused Suhl’s effort to keep receiving money from the state for inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment for young people at his Trinity Behavioral Health Care (formerly known as the Lord’s Ranch in Randolph County) and outpatient care provided at multiple locations by Maxus. Loss of government funding essentially shut most of the organizations down, putting many out of work. Trinity Behavioral still had four private-pay residents in its care yesterday, a DHS spokesman said. There were no deficiencies noted in the operation. Even though the agency no longer receives Medicaid, it is open to state inspection as a faciltiy that cares for children.
Suhl’s companies were suspended after the indictment of former state legislator and state Human Services Department official Steven Jones. Jones pleaded guiltyy to taking cash and free meals from owners of mental health facilities with DHS contracts in return for help and internal DHS information. Suhl wasn’t named in the charges against Jones, but DHS said they identified Suhl as the person of interest and suspended his businesses.
Jones, 49, also a former state representative, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy and bribery charges that he solicited and received $5,000 in cash as well as free meals from owners of mental health facilities under contract with DHS from April 2007 to July 2013. “Person C” provided cash to Jones through intermediaries, according to documents on file in federal court. In return, Jones provided he provided official assistance, including providing internal DHS information about businesses owned by “Person C,” according to the FBI.
Suhl is a controversial figure who, during the Huckabee administration, sat on the board that regulated businesses like The Lord’s Ranch and whose “Bible-based” provision of mental health services to children at the Warm Springs facility was alleged to have included physical abuse. Suhl and The Lord’s Ranch were the subject of an investigative report published in the Times in 2009. Suhl also made news for providing transportation on his private plane to Mike Huckabee.
Reports of grand jury interest increased earlier this fall when a second person pleaded guilty in the scheme to which Jones pleaded guilty. Phillip Carter, a former West Memphis councilman and juvenile probation officer, pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Steven Jones. The charge detailed a four-year bribery scheme, laundering payments from the health care company through an unnamed pastor’s church, to be turned over to Jones, less some payments to participants. The 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, according to the government filing.
The Suhl investigation was one of two public corruption cases in which the feds had won guilty pleas from people who’d accepted bribes, but nothing was filed related to the source of the money. The Suhl indictment changes that. Former Circuit Judge Mike Maggio also has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing for saying he took campaign contributions to reduce a damage award by a jury in his court against a nursing home. No one else has been indicted, but Maggio received contributions from nursing home owner Michael Morton funneled through former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker. They’ve denied wrongdoing.
The Maggio investigation set the political world on fire because Baker raised money for a number of other politicians. He had a retainer from a political lobby that works to elect conservative Republicans while a senator and it was reported recently that former Republican Sen. Michael Lamoureux, now chief of staff to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, got $120,000 in “consulting” fees from that same group, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, though he’d never disclosed that publicly.
The review of political spending has also led to speculation about Sen. Jon Woods, another Republican senator. Gov. Asa Hutchinson made a point of attending a Woods fund-raiser and endorsing him earlier this fall, but Woods later issued a surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election after all. He said he wanted to spend more time with family.
The Suhl indictment mentions no other associations. He is accused of bribing Jones and Carter, both of whom have entered guilty pleas. Jones is to be sentenced Jan. 8. Carter is to be sentenced Feb. 18.
I asked for a comment from the Department of Human Services, which has shipped millions in federal and state money to Suhl over the years. Said Amy Webb:
As you know, he and his companies were suspended as Medicaid providers last year when these allegations first surfaced. That suspension still stands. We’ll continue to monitor the situation.
Here’s the government news release:
The owner of two Arkansas mental health companies that provide inpatient and outpatient mental health services to juveniles was indicted yesterday for engaging in a scheme to bribe a former deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS), announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.
A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Arkansas returned the six-count indictment on Dec. 2, 2015, charging Theodore E. Suhl, 50, of Warm Springs, Arkansas, with conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud, three counts of honest services fraud, one count federal funds bribery and one count of interstate travel in aid of bribery.
The indictment alleges that Suhl bribed Steven B. Jones, former deputy director of ADHS, to perform acts in his official capacity that benefited Suhl and his mental health companies and to provide internal ADHS information to Suhl. Beginning in approximately April 2007, Suhl, Jones and Phillip W. Carter, a former probation officer in Crittenden County, Arkansas, and a West Memphis, Tennessee [sic], council member, allegedly periodically met at restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee, and rural Arkansas in order for Suhl to request assistance from Jones. In exchange for Jones’ agreement to perform official acts, Suhl allegedly paid Jones by issuing checks made payable to the pastor of Carter’s church that Carter and the pastor then deposited and cashed in order to provide cash payments to Jones.
Jones previously pleaded guilty to federal funds bribery and conspiracy for his involvement in the scheme. Carter previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit federal funds bribery and honest services wire fraud. Jones and Carter currently await sentencing.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Trial Attorneys Lauren Bell, John D. Keller and Amanda R. Vaughn of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case. The FBI’s Little Rock Field Office investigated the case.