A former West Memphis city councilman has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge, admitting he was one of two intermediaries who helped pass bribes to Steven Jones, a former deputy director of the state Department of Human Services, from April 2007 through November 2011.
The plea by Phillip W. Carter, 46, also a former Crittenden County juvenile probation officer, was accepted Tuesday by U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr., according to court records electronically filed Wednesday.
Jones, 49, pleaded guilty Oct. 1 to conspiracy and bribery charges, admitting he took cash and other things of value from the unidentified owner of two youth counseling businesses in exchange for providing official assistance to the companies. He is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 8 before U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson.
The department later identified Ted Suhl as the owner of the two mental health businesses, Trinity Behavioral Health Care and Maxus Inc., also known as Arkansas Counseling Associates, both of which provided services to Medicaid patients, and it suspended the companies from receiving Medicaid funds.
The companies filed a lawsuit appealing the suspension and received a restraining order temporarily preventing the state from cutting off the flow of funds. But in December, the companies dropped the lawsuit and an administrative appeal after the restraining order expired and a judge declined to extend it. The companies said in early December that they had begun laying off employees.
Suhl hasn't been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.
According to a criminal information filed in court Tuesday, Carter said he was affiliated with "Person A," who was identified only as the pastor and superintendent of a West Memphis church, and that he worked with Jones, Person A and "Person C," who isn't identified in court documents but was identified by the Human Services Department as Suhl, to solicit bribes in connection with a series of transactions of $5,000 or more.
An information is a formal criminal charge made by a prosecutor without the necessity of obtaining a grand jury indictment.
The document states that in an effort to enrich themselves and advance the companies' business interests, Carter, Jones, Person A and Person C conspired to provide cash payments and other things of value, such as meals, to Jones, in exchange for Jones taking official action to benefit Person C and the two companies.
"Carter, Jones and Person C hid, concealed, and covered up their activity and dealings by holding periodic meetings at restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee or rural Arkansas so they would not be easily recognized," the document states.
Before or during the meetings among Carter, Jones and Person C, Person C would provide Carter with checks from companies associated with Person C that were made payable to Person A's church, the document states. It says that after the restaurant meetings, Carter would provide the checks to Person A, who typically deposited the checks into church-related checking accounts and received cash in return. Person A would then provide Carter with all or part of the cash and Carter would, in turn, provide all or part of the cash to Jones during a later in-person meeting.
Person A still hasn't been identified or charged.
The information mirrors the Oct. 2 information to which Jones, also a former state representative from Marion from November 1998 to December 2004, pleaded guilty. Jones admitted that he accepted more than $10,000 in bribes in exchange for providing inside information from the Human Services Department that benefited the owner of the two companies.
As the department's deputy director since 2007, Jones headed five divisions: Aging and Adult Services, Youth Services, Childcare and Early Childhood Education, Community Services and Nonprofit Support, and Services for the Blind. He was paid an annual salary of $117,615.
Before the companies' Medicaid funding was suspended, Trinity treated about 90 children at its Warm Springs inpatient facility, and Maxus, doing business as Arkansas Counseling Associates, provided outpatient care to more than 2,500 Medicaid beneficiaries. Combined, Medicaid paid the companies about $23 million to $29 million per year since 2009.
Carter was one of four people, including then-state Rep. Hudson Hallum, who pleaded guilty Sept. 5, 2012, to a conspiracy to bribe absentee voters with chicken dinners, as well as cheap vodka and whiskey, in an effort to ensure that Hallum won three special elections in 2011. Federal prosecutors said the conspiracy began when Hallum hired Carter to implement the campaign's absentee-ballot strategy.
Hallum resigned his seat representing District 54 and was sentenced to three years' probation with nine months' home confinement, 100 hours of community service work and a $20,000 fine.
Carter was sentenced to three years' probation with five months' home confinement, 100 hours of community service work and a $2,500 fine.
Metro on 09/17/2015
Print Headline: Ex-city councilman admits role in ex-DHS official's bribe case