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

From the ArkTimes store

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…

  • 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
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • That modern mercantile: The bARn

    The bARn Mercantile — "the general store for the not so general," its slogan says — will open in the space formerly occupied by Ten Thousand Villages at 301A President Clinton Ave.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
    • May 25, 2017
  • You want tort reform? Try this.

    The nursing home industry and the chamber of commerce finally defeated the trial lawyers in the 2017 legislature. The Republican-dominated body approved a constitutional amendment for voters in 2018 that they'll depict as close to motherhood in goodness.
    • May 18, 2017
  • French Hill's photo op

    The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a health care bill that only the blind, dumb or dishonest could call good for any but the wealthy. For its many flaws, it has been hailed as a ticket to congressional gains for the Democratic Party.
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

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: Conspiracy theorists

    • .... and having a beer with Gene Lyons, who gave the cutest clumsy curtsy before…

    • on May 27, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Are you saying Karl Marx has left the building? The New York Times denies it…

    • on May 27, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Yes, Lyon's thinks it is Fox Network that promotes the lies that the West has…

    • on May 26, 2017
 

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