- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The owner of two Arkansas mental health companies that provide services for juveniles pleaded not guilty Friday to federal charges alleging that he bribed a top official from the state’s Human Services Department.

Ted Suhl, of Warm Springs, pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud, three counts of honest services fraud, and one count each of federal funds bribery and interstate travel in aid of bribery. His trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 19.

Suhl, who has previously denied wrongdoing, left the hearing without speaking to reporters. One of his lawyers, Chuck Banks of Little Rock, declined to comment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe Volpe ordered the 50-year-old Suhl to turn over his passport and maintain regular contact with his attorneys and a court officer while awaiting trial. Volpe said he would not stop Suhl from traveling across state lines.

“I know you’re a businessman and you have some travel and things. I don’t want to impede on your business and your ability to earn income in any way, but you need to communicate with your pre-trial services officer if you’re going to be traveling outside the district,” Volpe said.

Volpe said the most severe charge, honest services fraud, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The indictment accuses Suhl of paying thousands of dollars to former DHS Deputy Director Steven Jones, who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and bribery charges related to the alleged payments. Federal officials said in the indictment that the payments were in exchange for helping Suhl’s companies, which received more than $90 million in Medicaid funds, and to provide internal information about the agency to Suhl.

Former West Memphis City Councilman Phillip Carter also pleaded guilty last year to his role in the scheme. The indictment alleges that Carter served as an intermediary between Suhl and Jones. It says Suhl wrote checks to the pastor of Carter’s church, and that the pastor and Carter then cashed those checks and gave the money to Jones.

The DHS suspended Suhl’s companies from the Medicaid program after determining that Suhl was the person Jones accused of paying the bribes. A federal judge ruled late last year that the state could cut off Medicaid payments to the two businesses.

Both sides agreed to a protective order on discovery documents in the case. The request for the order notes that material contains sensitive information including the names of cooperators and uncharged criminal conduct by unindicted individuals.

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