Favorite

The search for welfare fraud 

A major federal indictment last week passed with barely a peep from Arkansas politicians and scant notice from news media.

A major federal indictment last week passed with barely a peep from Arkansas politicians and scant notice from news media.

The feds finally turned loose an indictment of Ted Suhl, owner/operator of inpatient and outpatient companies for young people with mental health problems, for paying bribes to help his government-financed business.

Steven Jones, a former state legislator and high Department of Human Services official, had already pleaded guilty to taking bribes from an unnamed person that DHS acknowledged was Suhl when it cut his companies off from Medicaid reimbursement.

I've been unable to get a full accounting for Suhl's time in Arkansas, but past reporting shows he's reaped at least $150 million in federal and state payments for the inpatient facility in Randolph County once known as the Lord's Ranch and from a string of community counseling operations.

Suhl's been on my radar for a long time. He was so close to Mike Huckabee during the Huckabee administration that he was appointed to the board that regulates facilities such as his own. He flew Huckabee to political events on his private plane. He lavished the Republican Party and state legislators with contributions. It wasn't all about self-interest. Suhl also comes from the hard-right end of the religious spectrum. The state board on which he sat tried, unconstitutionally, to ban gay people from being foster or adoptive parents. He incorporated religion in his Lord's Ranch, including alleged improper use of corporal punishment, until protests were made.

Until Huckabee came along, Suhl sometimes faced regulatory difficulties. But they eased during the Huckabee reign. It is perhaps coincidental that Suhl's indictment says his bribes to Jones began about three months after Mike Beebe became governor. Perhaps Suhl decided he needed a Democratic friend in the new administration and turned to Jones. Beebe did not reappoint him to the child welfare board. Beebe also took some modest steps at reforming a system in which Arkansas spent a disproportionate amount compared with other states on expensive inpatient mental health treatment. Suhl was prepared to adapt with a growing community-based business. He adapted, too, by having friends in the system that made referrals for services.

It took a team of federal public corruption specialists to finally get prosecutable goods on Suhl, though there was ample reason to look closely at him, as investigative reporting over the years in the Times, particularly by Mary Jacoby in 2009, illustrated. But these days, legislators seem unconcerned about the Ted Suhls. Instead, they obsess that a poor person might have a few hundred dollars in assets and still get Medicaid. They also want to drug-test the poor wretches and submit them to work rules. People who draw tens of millions in state money suffer far fewer indignities.

DHS is the state's biggest agency and the most difficult to run. Poor people — sick, disabled, dislocated — aren't easily repaired. People with the best of intentions — and these include the overwhelming majority of the thousands of people in the DHS system — make mistakes at times, or at least ill-fated decisions in cases where there are no good solutions. It is an agency, too, that must battle entrenched political interests — the agencies that are paid millions to do everything from feed poor kids in the summer to care for abused children, fractured families and the infirm aged. DHS has no lobbyists with credit cards or money for campaign contributions. It must be sensitive to pressure-wielding legislators such as Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), who committed what would now be a crime in giving away adopted children to the home of a sex abuser. He continues to get a decent living from government money paid to the religion-influenced daycare he operates.

DHS responds to criticism such as mine by saying 1) it tries hard and 2) it can't have its inspectors in every school or clinic or residential facility at every minute. I know. And, believe me, the operators know it. The unscrupulous — think Ted Suhl and Justin Harris — take advantage. I don't blame DHS for that. I blame legislators who worry more that a poor person might get undeserved alms than about Ted Suhl bribing a state legislator to get rich.

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015
  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Don't cry for Robert E. Lee

    Congratulations are in order for Governor Hutchinson. He decided this year to devote the weight of his office to end the state's embarrassing dual holiday for slavery defender Robert E. Lee and civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr.
    • Mar 23, 2017
  • City Board discovers LRSD

    An article in Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reminded me of John Belushi in "Animal House" exhorting frat brothers to rally against a dean's effort to put them out of business. "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"
    • Mar 16, 2017
  • Supremely disappointing

    The Arkansas Supreme Court last week delivered a blow to civil rights in Arkansas. It was another results-oriented decision that gives a clue to how far the justices likely will go to appease the legislature.
    • Mar 2, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Arkansas is the perfect place to try out this new health trend. Read all about the what, why, where and how here.

Event Calendar

« »

March

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: More on pits

    • "the breed's propensity for unprovoked and deadly attacks on animals and people" This is nonsense…

    • on March 26, 2017
  • Re: More on pits

    • Well, for heaven's sake.

    • on March 26, 2017
  • Re: More on pits

    • Just here because this column was the focus of the recent print issue's "Comment" section..…

    • on March 26, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation