SPRINGDALE (KFSM) -- Former State Senator Jon Woods, R-Springdale, has been indicted by a grand jury on several charges on Thursday (March 2) in connection with a kickback and bribery scheme that has already seen one former state lawmaker plead guilty.
On Thursday the U.S. Attorney’s Western District office filed a 43-page indictment that outlines the alleged scheme to steer General Improvement Fund money from the state legislature to projects supported through funding distributed by the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District.
Woods is facing 11 counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of honest services mail fraud, according to a press release from the state district attorney's office.
The indictment also named Oren Paris III, 49, of Springdale, and Randell G. Shelton Jr., 37, of Alma, as playing a role in the effort.
Paris, who is president of Ecclesia College is Springdale, is facing nine counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of honest services mail fraud after receiving funding from GIF monies; however, the private school is not named in the indictment. Shelton is part of an unnamed consulting company that was used to pay and conceal the kickbacks that Woods and Neal were allegedly receiving.
The purposes of the scheme outlined in the lengthy indictment state that:
- Woods and Neal sought to enrich themselves “by soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for using their official positions as Arkansas legislators to direct GIF monies” to two different entities, identified as Entity A and C;
- Paris sought to enrich himself, his family, and Entity A, by “paying bribes to Woods and Neal through Shelton”; and
- Shelton sought to enrich himself by “keeping a portion of the bribe funds paid to Woods and Neal.”
The activity took place between 2013 and 2015 and included GIF monies totaling $600,000 over the course of the alleged illegal efforts.
Woods' attorney, Patrick Benca, released a statement on Friday afternoon (March 3) maintaining Woods' innocence.
“Senator Woods is innocent of any wrong doing. I had faith that the investigating agencies would draw the correct conclusion that Senator Woods has committed no crime. Unfortunately, the indictment combines and selects unrelated events and conversations in an attempt to connect dots that are not linked and portrays standard grant request procedures, followed by all legislators, as somehow unique and illicit. Where evidence does not exist, gross assumptions have been inserted to weave a narrative that ensures a biased, slanted, and misrepresented ending. Senator Woods would never abuse the trust and position given to him by his constituents. I am confident that once all of the facts are presented to a jury of Senator Woods’ peers that he will be found innocent of all charges brought against him.”
Likewise, Ecclesia College released a statement on their Facebook page saying the college would keep Paris as the president, and that they were confident he acted with integrity in all matters related to the university.