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story.lead_photo.caption Former Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III walks Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, into the John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Building in Fayetteville. - Photo by Andy Shupe

A former Arkansas college president was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday in a kickback scheme involving state grants for his school.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks also sentenced Oren Paris III, to three years of probation upon release.

Brooks noted Wednesday monring before announcing the prison term that the final sentencing report gave Paris some credit for pleading guilty, but not much. Cooperating defendants usually receive credit in the form of a suggested reduction in their sentences, Brooks noted.

Five witnesses testified on Paris’ behalf Wednesday, speaking of good works by Paris both on a personal level and in charity. Those witnesses included Paris’ sister, noted gospel singer Twila Paris Wright.

“I believe with all my heart that Oren’s overarching goal in life is to please God,” she told the judge. “I also believe that after going through this trying time, he will stay very, very far away from anything that might be unlawful.”

Paris, former president of Ecclesia College in Springdale, faced up to 20 years in federal prison.

Paris resigned as president and a board member of the college the day before pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud in April. Paris changed his plea five days before going to trial, two-and-a half hours before his last pre-trial hearing and after a year of declaring his innocence.

Paris conspired with then-state Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale in 2013 and 2014 to steer state General Improvement Fund grants to Ecclesia, a small, private Christian college founded by his father. Mutual friend Randell G. Shelton Jr., a consultant, acted as a go-between.

Shelton created a company called Paradigm Strategic Consulting as part of the scheme. Paris then contracted the consulting firm without the knowledge of Ecclesia’s governing board. Then-state Rep. Micah Neal of Springdale joined in. Woods and Neal not only steered $550,000 in grants to Ecclesia directly, the two encouraged other lawmakers to send Improvement Fund money to the school.

Shelton received a six-year sentence for his role last week. Woods was sentenced to more than 18 years the day before Shelton’s sentencing.

In all, Ecclesia College got $715,500 in state Improvement Fund grants from 2013 to early 2015. Woods and Neal are the only two of the 10 lawmakers who steered grants to Ecclesia who were implicated in the kickback scheme.

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

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  • JMort69
    September 12, 2018 at 1:23 p.m.

    So, I guess this guy can sit in his prison cell and contemplate his phony life. In addition to duping parents into spending hard earned money to send their kids to this ridiculous "college", he then took our money and paid kickbacks to the other crooks in the scheme, all while professing it was for Jesus. And still, there are people who, reportedly, don't think he did anything wrong. For them, there is no help. They are so gullible that they think anyone who says the name Jesus is holy. There are many warnings in their Bible about this type of person, but apparently, those messages are not ones they want to heed. I guess that in addition to the poor always being with us, so will the willfully blind. And, sadly, they will always be taken advantage of by people like Paris. The mighty are falling daily and, I hope, there are far more to come.

  • dunk7474
    September 12, 2018 at 2:25 p.m.

    So when will the ring leader,Asa, go to jail??

  • pamiam123
    September 12, 2018 at 2:42 p.m.

    What a shame that he got caught up in this.

  • ChenalMe
    September 12, 2018 at 2:53 p.m.

    Another swamp rat down the drain...

  • MaxCady
    September 12, 2018 at 4:58 p.m.

    FCI Forrest City is going to have to build another wing for all these Arkies!!

  • MaxCady
    September 12, 2018 at 5 p.m.

    In God we trust, all others pay cash!!

  • Nodmcm
    September 12, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

    Folks are upset with the politicization of college education, believing that liberals run everything. But former college president Paris was and is a Republican and a conservative. So not all colleges are run by liberals.

  • MaxCady
    September 12, 2018 at 6:32 p.m.

    Liberal moonbats are the antithesis of religious colleges!!

  • lolovita
    September 13, 2018 at 9:27 a.m.

    What is it with these elected officials and this college?

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