Lawsuit alleges 'widespread' abuse at shuttered youth facility operated by man commuted by Trump

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Eight former residents of a youth treatment center that was run by an Arkansas man whose bribery conviction was commuted by former President Donald Trump have filed a lawsuit claiming they were victims of “systematic and widespread” abuse at the now-shuttered facility.

Attorneys for the former residents of the Lord's Ranch said the lawsuit is the first of several to be filed in the coming weeks alleging abuse at the facility that closed in 2016 after owner Ted Suhl was convicted in a federal bribery scheme. Suhl's conviction was commuted by Trump in 2019.

“Men and women who owned, operated, and staffed the facility preyed on and abused the children housed on the remote facility in Warm Springs, Arkansas routinely and systematically,” the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court said.

The lawsuit against Suhl and others claims the unnamed residents were victims of repeated sexual abuse and rape by an employee of the facility, describing the abuse in graphic detail. The employee, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had not been charged by police with abuse. An attorney who represented Suhl in his bribery case did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday.

“Children at the Lord’s lived in constant fear, knowing that they were alone in a remote, unfamiliar environment far from home and at the complete mercy of a sadistic staff,” the lawsuit said. “For many children, survival meant compliance with the physical and sexual abuse.”

The ranch — later named Trinity Behavioral Health — opened in 1976 and was licensed in 1987 by the state as a residential child care facility.

The lawsuit claims Suhl and others at the ranch made an "intentional, fully conscious decision" to allow the abuse to occur and threatened victims who spoke up.

A federal jury in 2016 found Suhl guilty of charges related to paying up to $20,000 in cash bribes over four years to a state health official in hopes of receiving inside information to benefit his businesses. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released after Trump commuted his sentence to time served.

The White House in 2019 called Suhl “a pillar of his community before his prosecution and a generous contributor to several charities” in its statement announcing Trump's commutation. Suhl's clemency request had been supported by former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Attorneys for the residents said they represent at least 30 who have also claimed abuse at the facility. The attorneys said they're filing additional lawsuits, citing a January 2024 deadline under a recent Arkansas law that extended the statute of limitation on child sex abuse cases.

“Each story is worse than the next,” attorney Martin Gould told reporters in a Zoom call on Tuesday with attorney Josh Gillispie.

The call included audio recordings from two of the plaintiffs discussing the impact the abuse had on them. One of the plaintiffs said the years he spent at the ranch were “the worst, most horrific experiences I can remember.”