Court documents show a federal lawsuit was filed in Little Rock on Monday against Ted Suhl, former owner of the now defunct Lord’s Ranch behavioral health services and other facilities.
Suhl was convicted of bribing a state official but received a commutation of sentence by former President Donald Trump.
The lawsuit describes decades of child abuse by staff members at the Lord’s Ranch facility.
The lawsuit alleges abuse at the northeast Arkansas residential facility included “premeditated sexual abuse and child rape, often under threat of force; extreme physical violence and abuse resulting in serious injuries such as broken bones; and psychological manipulation and torment, such as isolation closets and straitjackets,” according to the suit filed in federal court on Monday.
The complaint also stated the facility engaged in concerted efforts to cover-up and conceal the abuse. Victims allege that when they reported abuse to staff, either no action was taken, victims were threatened or the abuse was allowed to continue.
Eight male plaintiffs in the suit alleged that during the 1990’s and 2000’s they were allegedly victimized by one senior staffer identified in the suit as Emmett Alden Presley, director of social services at the Lord’s Ranch.
Each of the eight plaintiffs recount similar stories of being forced to submit to sexual acts in exchange for the promise of gifts such as food, clothing, cigarettes, pornography and the opportunity to drive his car according to the filing.
Court filings and victim statements say if the victim resisted, they would be threatened with beatings, some were placed in isolation and communication with family was restricted.
The lawsuit states that Suhl and other supervisors “were fully aware that Emmett Presley habitually raped and sexually molested minor male residents of the Lord’s Ranch, particularly Presley’s own counseling patients at the Lord’s Ranch,” according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges staff members tried to silence victims with the use of threats, intimidation, physical violence, to those who reported Presley to the supervisors over the years.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Price Marshall.
The Lord’s Ranch which opened in 1976 was first licensed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services in the late 1980s. The facility was located on a remote, 1,100-acre plot of land north of Pocahontas.
The Lord’s Ranch was a temporary home to thousands of teenagers and children sent from states including Illinois, Alaska, Indiana and Texas, as well as Arkansas.
Suhl promoted the Lord’s Ranch as a therapeutic setting in which troubled children could grow “emotionally, spiritually and behaviorally,” surrounded by nature and supported by a second family of dedicated staff.
Although numerous allegations of harsh treatment and physical abuse were reported over the years, the facility continued to operate until 2016 when Suhl was convicted of bribery.
Suhl operated a network of behavioral health providers including 18 outpatient clinics. From 2002 to 2014 records show his companies received over 200 million dollars from Medicaid alone.
Suhl was also appointed in the 1990’s to a board by Governor Mike Huckabee that reviewed licensing for behavior health facilities and foster care facilities.
The federal lawsuit that was filed Monday names Presley and Ted Suhl as defendants, along with Shirley Suhl and a former senior director at the facility, Alonza Jiles.
The suit also names corporate defendants, including Maxus and Trinity Behavioral Health, the name the Lord’s Ranch operated under from 2008 to 2016.