Prison ministry support disrupted by benefactor's legal problems

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TED SUHL: His troubles led to financial problems for an Arkansas prison ministry. - NELSON CHENAULT
  • Nelson Chenault
  • TED SUHL: His troubles led to financial problems for an Arkansas prison ministry.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette gave front-page coverage today to a Christian prison ministry that publisher Walter Hussman has adopted as a cause.

Hussman's newspaper has been publishing fund solicitations for Pathway to Freedom to ease financial stress.

Background on how the program developed money needs:

One of its biggest backers for several years was the operator of mental health treatment programs for wayward youths. He provided about a quarter of the program's operating money — $325,000 over four years. But he stopped giving in 2014, when he ran into legal difficulties of his own.

That benefactor, Ted Suhl, is now in prison — a federal one He was convicted of paying bribes to a state Human Services Department official to get an edge for his business, which received most of its money through federal programs financed through DHS. He's serving a seven-year sentence, but is appealing the conviction


In his federal trial, Suhl's attorneys explained his help for Pathway to Freedom to mitigate testimony about money he'd directed to an  unrelated church that the government alleged was part of his scheme. Attorneys argued he was simply known for huge contributions to charity. From a document his attorneys filed:

Scott McLean would have testified that he had been the Director of Arkansas’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative Program (IFI) for prisoners until the program lost its government funding in 2011. At that time, Mr. McLean started raising money for a non-profit to continue the work of IFI called Pathway to Freedom. Pathway to Freedom was a Christ- centered, voluntary program for Arkansas prisoners that helped inmates transition successfully back into society as law-abiding citizens. The program relied entirely on private donations and involved 18 to 24 months of pre-release classes, counseling, and job training, and 12 months of post-release support through mentorship, housing, employment, and other services.

Alzono Jiles introduced Mr. McLean to Ted Suhl in 2011 because he thought Mr. Suhl would support Pathway to Freedom. Mr. McLean met with Ted Suhl and explained Pathway to Freedom’s program. After that meeting, Ted Suhl donated $50,000 to Pathway to Freedom in December 2011, $100,000 in 2012, $102,000 in 2013, and $73,500 in 2014. Mr. Suhl never asked for any benefits, gifts, or favors in return for any of these donations.

Mr. Suhl’s donations constituted about 25% of Pathway to Freedom’s budget and were essential for the opening and successful operation of the program. Mr. McLean believes the program’s effectiveness and the state’s recidivism rate have suffered since Mr. Suhl’s donations ceased in 2014 after the Government shut down his businesses. Mr. McLean’s testimony would have been consistent with what Mr. McLean told the FBI agent who approached him at the Pathway to Freedom office on July 7, 2016.

Consistently, Alzono Jiles would have testified that he introduced Mr. Suhl to Mr. McLean because in his 28 years of working with the Suhl family, he knew Mr. Suhl was raised to support and participate in prison ministries. 

The forerunner of the Pathway to Freedom program was discussed, by the way, in an article Doug Smith wrote for the Times about prison ministries in 2006.


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