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People complain about fraud, waste and abuse in the state Medicaid program. Usually, those complaints are not very specific. Well, Ted Suhl ran businesses that did exactly what those critics complain about.

President Donald Trump commuted Suhl's prison sentence on Monday. This cuts Suhl's seven-year prison sentence in half.

Frank Lockwood's news story on Tuesday lays out the history quite well. Today I only want to point out that no administration trying to drain a swamp would have done this.

Granted, Suhl is small potatoes compared to, for instance, the four members of the president's cabinet so far who have resigned amid scandal. At least two more who should. But Suhl is the sack of small potatoes closest to home for this state.

As Lockwood recaps, a federal jury in Little Rock convicted Suhl of four of six counts related to paying bribes to the state deputy director overseeing Medicaid. Medicaid distributes federal taxpayer money, mostly. State taxpayer money is thrown in, too.

Two of Suhl's companies, Maxus Inc. and Trinity Behavioral Health, received more than $125 million in state-administered Medicaid funds from April 2007 through September 2011.

I happened to be in Little Rock one day in 2007, filling in for a co-worker to cover the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee. Suhl's then-thriving "faith-based" businesses happened to come up. One lawmaker asked what exactly "The Lord's Ranch," one of Suhl's businesses, did for all the money it was getting. When told, he replied something along these lines: A vacation to a cabin and some horseback riding would do me some good, too, but I do not think the state should pay for it.

The committee meeting's topic that day, as best I can recollect, was why our little state was paying more per capita for juvenile behavioral health than Ohio was. State spending at the Lord's Ranch had gone up from $140,000 in 2000 to $8.5 million in 2005.

But enough of my recollections. Back to hard facts. A federal court jury convicted Suhl, then 51, on July 20, 2016. The jury found him guilty after a weeklong trial. U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson sentenced Suhl to seven years in federal prison and fined him $200,000.

"Using religion to grease the skids for his crimes is particularly egregious and hurts people who are straightforward in their religious beliefs," Wilson said at the time of Suhl's "faith-based" operations. After the sentencing Suhl's lost his court appeals.

Oh, by the way, Suhl and his wife gave at least $20,000 since 1998 to Republican congressional and presidential candidates, according to the Federal Election Commission. He also contributed to state candidates, according to Lockwood. Suhl's most famous donation was by a company he managed, Southeastern Asset Management. The company flew then-Gov. Mike Huckabee and two of the governor's family members to a Republican event in North Carolina in 2006. The Arkansas Times broke that story after the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Chattanooga, Tenn. So, but for a mechanical failure, no one would have known about that particular flight except the people giving and receiving the benefit.

Huckabee and former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, Trump's Arkansas campaign chairman in 2016, "have devoted considerable time and effort to securing his release," the president's statement Monday said.

"Mr. Suhl was a pillar of his community before his prosecution and a generous contributor to several charities," the president's Monday statement said.

I have no trouble believing Suhl was generous to charities. Thanks to Arkansas taxpayers, he could afford it.

A cynic could get the idea that graft and corruption, in this administration's view, occurs only when people outside the club get in on it. For instance, the Government Accountability Office concluded last month that the current secretary of Housing and Urban Development broke the law in the lavish refurnishing of his office. That report came out the same day the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency concluded former agency administrator Scott Pruitt wasted $124,000 of taxpayer money on travel with no legitimate government purpose.

The Brookings Institution maintains a pretty good running list of high-ranking administration officials who have left. It is worth a look at www.brookings.edu/research/tracking-turnover-in-the-trump-administration/.

"Drain the swamp," indeed.

Commentary on 08/03/2019

Print Headline: Ted Suhl and the "swamp"

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