The owner of two Arkansas mental health companies that provide inpatient and outpatient mental health services to juveniles was indicted Wednesday for engaging in a scheme to bribe a former deputy director of the state Department of Human Services, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
According to Assistant Attorney General Leslie 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 Suhl, 50, of Warm Springs, Ark., 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 Jones, former deputy director of ADHS, to perform acts in his official capacity that benefitted Suhl and his mental health companies and to provide internal ADHS information to Suhl. Beginning in April 2007, Suhl, Jones and Phillip Carter, a former probation officer in Crittenden County and a West Memphis council member, allegedly 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, who is also a former state House member from Marion, pleaded guilty to two counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy in federal court earlier this year.
At the time, prosecutors alleged Jones, Phillip Carter, Suhl and one other person (called Person A) were involved in a conspiracy from April 2007 until November 2011.
The other person has not been named by federal authorities.
“Person A was a resident of Crittenden County and was the Pastor and Superintendent of a church located in West Memphis. Carter was a juvenile probation officer and city council member for West Memphis and was also affiliated with Person A’s church,” prosecutors said in paperwork involving Carter’s case. “Jones was a Deputy Director of ADHS (Arkansas Department of Human Services from in or about April 2007 to in or about July 2013. … As an employee and high ranking manager, Jones was an agent of ADHS and he was responsible for, among other things, overseeing five of ADHS’s ten divisions. Person C was the owner of two mental health companies, Company A and Company B. Company A provided outpatient mental health services to juveniles. Company B provided inpatient mental health services to juveniles.”
Prosecutors alleged earlier this year that Jones, Carter and Suhl, who was known as Person C, met secretly at restaurants in Memphis and Arkansas to discuss the conspiracy.
“At the meetings, they discussed the business interests of Person C, Company A and Company B, and Jones agreed to take official acts to benefit Person C, Company A and Company B, including providing internal ADHS information to Person C,” prosecutors alleged in Carter’s case. “Prior to or during the meetings. … Person C would provide Carter with checks from companies associated with Person C that were made payable to Person A’s church. After the restaurant meetings, Carter would provide the checks to Person A, who typically deposited the checks or caused the checks to be deposited into church-related checking accounts (including an account associated with the church’s child development center) and received cash in return – either directly from the church related accounts or after transferring the money from the church-related accounts to a personal checking account.”
“Person A” would then give Carter all or part of the money; and Carter would give the money to Jones, prosecutors allege.
Jones is set to be sentenced Jan. 8 in federal court at Little Rock. Carter pleaded guilty Sept. 15 to one count of conspiracy to defraud the Arkansas Department of Human Services; and will be sentenced Feb. 18 in federal court at Little Rock.
Suhl is expected to be arraigned and plead guilty to the charges on Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Little Rock.
Trial attorneys Lauren Bell, John Keller and Amanda Vaughn of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case. The FBI’s Little Rock Field Office investigated the case.