Former Arkansas Senator and Cronies Charged with Bribery, Fraud

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Former State Senator Jon Woods (R-Springdale) has been indicted for a public corruption scheme involving a college president and a consultant.

During the time Woods served as an Arkansas state senator from 2013 to 2017, he allegedly misappropriated funds and redirected government money, known as General Improvement Funds (GIF), to two non-profit entities by authorizing GIF disbursements and advising other Arkansas legislators.

On Thursday, Woods and the two other individuals–Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III, and Randell Shelton, Jr., referred to in court documents as a consultant and friend of Woods–were charged in an indictment “for perpetrating a bribery and fraud scheme involving tens of thousands of dollars in bribes provided to the senator and another legislator” in exchange for “directing approximately $600,000 in government funds to two non-profit entities,” announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Elser of the Western District of Arkansas.

According to a U.S. Justice Department press release, Woods, 39, was charged with 11 counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of honest services mail fraud and one count of money laundering.

“Oren Paris III, 49, also of Springdale, and Randell G. Shelton Jr., 37, of Alma, Arkansas, were each charged with nine counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of honest services mail fraud,” reads the press release.

Federal prosecutors claim Woods sent $200,000 of GIF money to the Ecclesia College run by Paris and later approved another $200,000 to the same entity, in exchange for kickbacks.

The indictment also alleges that political motivations likely played a factor and suggests that Paris bribed Woods by hiring the senator’s friend to an administrative position at Ecclesia College.

A text message conversation detailed in the documents shows that Paris pushed Woods to encourage other lawmakers to support Ecclesia College in 2013. “Good selling point to conservative legislators is that [Ecclesia] produces graduates that are conservative voters. All state and secular colleges produce vast majority liberal voters.” Woods replied by saying, “Agreed.”

Reportedly, Woods is not the first state legislator to be indicted in connection to this scheme. In January, Former State Representative Micah Neal pleaded guilty to accepting $38,000 worth of bribes, of which $18,000 came from a nonprofit college in Springdale and from an executive of a behavioral health services company.

The press release also states the potential of additional co-conspirators involved in the scheme, though they remain unlisted.

All three individuals are scheduled to be arraigned in Fayetteville on March 28th.

H/T: Justice.gov, Arkansas Matters

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