Prison time for Jones, Carter

Former elected officials sentenced to jail in bribery scheme

By Ralph Hardin ralphhardin@gmail.com

Two local former elected officials will be headed to prison. Steve Jones, a former deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS), a multi-billion dollar state agency, and Phillip Carter, a former probation officer for Crittenden County and former West Memphis City Councilman, were sentenced today for engaging in a bribery scheme involving the owner of two mental health companies, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick C. Harris of the Eastern District of Arkansas. On Thursday, United States District Judge Billy Roy Wilson sentenced Jones, 51, of Marion, Arkansas, to 30 months in the Bureau of Prisons after pleading guilty to a two-count Information charging him with conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and honest services wire fraud and for federal funds bribery. Jones also must serve one year of supervised release and pay a $6,000 fine. Jones’ co-conspirator Carter, 47, also of Marion, was sentenced to 24 months in prison and two years of supervised release for conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and honest services wire fraud. According to the plea agreements, Carter and a local pastor served as intermediaries in a bribery scheme involving Jones and Theodore Suhl, the owner of two businesses that provided inpatient and outpatient mental health services to juveniles. Jones admitted that, beginning in April 2007 and while serving as ADHS deputy director, he solicited and accepted multiple cash payments and other things of value from Suhl. Suhl provided the cash payments and other things of value to Jones through Carter and the pastor, and in return, Jones admitted that he agreed to perform official acts that benefitted Suhl and his businesses. As part of their pleas, both Jones and Carter admitted that they and other members of the conspiracy concealed their activity and dealings by, among other things, holding periodic meetings at restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee, or in rural Arkansas where they would not be easily recognized; funneling the cash payments through the pastor’s church; providing the bribe payments to Jones in cash so that the transactions would not be easily traceable; and speaking in code during telephone conversations. In arguing for prison time, Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Jegley said that Jones’ record of community involvement and public service also made his actions particularly reprehensible. “He violated both the position of trust at the Department of Human Services, and the trust among the public at large. He’s violated his position of trust as a role model to the public.” Jegley also reasoned that Jones role in the conspiracy played out over the course of several years, with multiple payments, showed a prolonged complicity. “This was not a situation where Mr. Jones had poor judgment one time,” she said. “He violated the law at least ten times and perhaps as many as 20.” Judge Wilson agreed with Jegley. “No doubt Mr. Jones is a man of tremendous energy and tremendous talent,” he said, but because Jones violated the public’s trust, he must go to prison. Prosecutors recommended the lowest possible sentence for Jones, presumably as part of his negotiated plea, and so Wilson assigned him to 30 months in federal prison. “I have seriously considered giving him more time in light of the public trust,” the judge added, “but I think this is sufficient.” On Dec. 2, 2015, Suhl was indicted on one count of 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 and is awaiting trial. The charges and allegations contained in that indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The FBI’s Little Rock Field Office investigated both cases. Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela S. Jegley of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas and Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section prosecuted Jones’s case. Trial Attorneys Edward P. Sullivan, Lauren Bell and Gwendolyn A. Stamper of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section prosecuted Carter’s case.

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