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January 18, 2018

Arraignment set in bribery case

Arraignment set in bribery case

FAYETTEVILLE — A new arraignment in the bribery case involving former state Sen. Jon Woods and two others is set…

FAYETTEVILLE — A new arraignment in the bribery case involving former state Sen. Jon Woods and two others is set for Sept. 27 in U.S. District Court.

Oren Paris III of Springdale, president of Ecclesia College, is shown in this file photo.

Randell Shelton Jr. is shown in this file photo.

The arraignment comes after an additional charge and revised indictment was made public Thursday, according to court records. The arraignment is set for 11 a.m. Trial is set for Dec. 4.

Woods and co-defendants Oren Paris III, president of Ecclesia College in Springdale, and consultant Randell G. Shelton Jr., formerly of Alma, have pleaded not guilty at two prior arraignments to all charges in the federal indictment accusing the men of participating in a kickback scheme. The first arraignment was March 28 and the second April 24.

Attorneys for Woods and Shelton said Friday their clients will repeat their pleas of not guilty. An attorney for Paris could not be reached for comment but Paris has maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings and unsuccessfully petitioned for a separate trial.

The latest, superseding indictment added a conspiracy charge against all three defendants.

Woods, a Republican of Springdale, also faces 15 counts of fraud, all relating to either wire or mail transfers of money. Paris and Shelton are named in 14 of the fraud charges. Woods is also charged with one count of money laundering in connection with the purchase of a cashier’s check.

The case involves grants from the state General Improvement Fund, which is controlled by legislators. The fund consists of state tax money left unallocated at the end of each fiscal year and interest earned on state deposits. Each legislator is given a share of the fund to be directed to a nonprofit group or government entity.

The Justice Department alleges Paris paid Woods and former state Rep. Micah Neal of Springdale kickbacks in return for a total of $550,000 in grants from those two legislators to his college from 2013 through 2014. Neal, a Republican, pleaded guilty Jan. 4 to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud. He hasn’t been sentenced.

Shelton is accused of using a consulting firm he owned as a way to pass the kickbacks to Neal and Woods through consulting fees approved by Paris.

The indictment doesn’t name the college involved, but says Paris is its president and describes it as a work-study college in Springdale. Each of these particulars, along with the amount and dates of the state grants as given in court documents, match Ecclesia.

This is the second superseding indictment to change the original grand jury indictment filed in March, court records show.

Shelly Koehler of Fayetteville, Shelton’s attorney, said Friday that while indictments in other cases have been revised before, revisions this close to a trial date are unusual considering the circumstances of this case.

Presiding U.S. District Judge Tim Brooks informed both the Justice Department and defense attorneys there will be no further delay in the trial date after granting an extension in April. Koehler said she would not speculate on why the Justice Department was still making revisions to the charges with less than 90 days left before Dec. 4.

Charles Robbins, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas, said the reason for the revisions is the same one as the reason for the December trial date: the ongoing investigation. As the investigation unfolds and new information is brought out, the charges need updating, he said.

Several motions filed in the case since the first indictment in March remain under seal.

Attorneys for the defense said during a hearing in April that more indictments are expected in the investigation into the awarding of General Improvement Fund grants.

NW News on 09/16/2017

Source: NWA Online Northwest Arkansas News Arraignment set in bribery case

Arraignment set in bribery case


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