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Prosecutors rest case in trial of former Arkansas legislator accused of accepting kickbacks

By Doug Thompson

This article was published April 25, 2018 at 12:27 p.m.

former-state-sen-jon-woods-left-walks-april-4-alongside-his-attorneys-outside-the-john-paul-hammerschmidt-federal-building-in-fayetteville

Former state Sen. Jon Woods (left) walks April 4 alongside his attorneys outside the John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Building in Fayetteville.

Prosecutors have rested their case in the trial of a former Arkansas senator and a consultant accused in a kickbacks scheme involving state grants.

The government rested its case shortly after noon Wednesday in the trial of ex-state Sen. Jon Woods and consultant Randell Shelton Jr. Oren Paris III, the former president of Ecclesia College in Springdale who pleaded guilty shortly before the trial began, was not called as a witness.

The prosecution rested after jurors were presented financial records compiled by the FBI showing that Ecclesia College accounted for almost all the money Randell Shelton deposited into his consulting company’s bank account.

Shelton is accused of passing kickbacks to Woods and former state Rep. Micah Neal through his business, Paradigm Strategic Consulting, according to the indictment.

Defense attorneys have said the money transfers to and from Woods were loans and money to pay back loans.

The kickbacks were from state General Improvement Fund grants to Ecclesia College, which received $550,000 in such grants from the two now-former lawmakers, according to prosecutors. Paris paid Shelton fees, and Shelton passed some of the money back to Woods and Neal, according to the indictment.

Woods of Springdale; Paris; and Shelton, formerly of Alma, were indicted in March 2017. Paris pleaded guilty April 4. He resigned as Ecclesia’s president and from the college’s governing board the day before entering his guilty plea.

Total deposits to Paradigm Strategic Consulting’s accounts from 2013 through 2015 were $285,994, with Ecclesia providing $267,500, or 93.4 percent, of all deposits.

Woods’ financial records show he made cash deposits to various accounts of his totaling $82,488 from 2012 through 2015. That includes $24,877 in 2013 and $37,782 in 2014, bank records show. This compares to $3,700 in 2012 and $16,138.89 in 2015.

Paradigm accounts show cash withdrawals, transfers directly to Woods and one transfer to the Plaid Jackets, a band Woods managed, totaling $284,391.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Elser described Paradigm in his opening statement April 10 as a “bogus company” with the purpose of passing kickbacks from Paris to Woods and Neal. Neal pleaded guilty on Jan. 4 of last year for his role.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 total comments

Arkie2017 says... April 25, 2018 at 1 p.m.

In the grand scheme of things, why go after this guy when nearly every politician these days is paid off with legalized bribes courtesy of the Supreme Court's success in granting corporations constitutional rights as a person. Only took them 200 years but they finally did it. Then of course corporate persons can just dole out as much money as they wish with no one reigning them in. It's hidden in not for profit think tanks, PACS and Super PACS they can contribute unlimited funds. The Koch brothers were actually out front about the $400 million they'll spend supporting Republicans in exchange for their tax cuts and if that's not obvious quid pro quo I don't know what is.

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JMort69 says... April 25, 2018 at 1:06 p.m.

At this point, the general public has heard so much of these incestuous, shady dealers, the verdict is moot. Ballinger, Bledsoe, Charlie Collins, Bart Hester and all the others who contributed to this scheme but were not charged have had their trial in the public venue, based on court and deed documents. We the voters are the final juries for these legislators and we have had enough of their machinations. And, we don't want to ever hear again how oh-so-holy these phonies are. In today's society of virtually no privacy, its increasingly hard to hide your bad deeds, but these guys made a valiant effort. Shell companies, straw men and under the table bribes are their stock and trade. I don't believe that the majority of Arkansas voters behave that way and I certainly think we should expect more for our tax money from the people we elect. Time to step up Arkansas and sweep the dirt out the door.

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TimberTopper says... April 25, 2018 at 1:19 p.m.

At last, The best government money can buy!

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