Third Sentencing in Ecclesia College Corruption Case

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (News Release)- Oren Paris III, the former president of Ecclesia College who pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks in return for state money funneled to the college, was sentenced to three years in federal prison and serve three years probation.

Paris was also ordered to pay $621,500.00 in restitution, on one count of honest services wire fraud.

Paris was ordered to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service to begin serving his sentence on October 10, 2018.

The Honorable Timothy L. Brooks presided over the sentencing hearing in the United States District Court in Fayetteville.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Jonathan Woods, 41, of Springdale, served as an Arkansas State Senator from 2013 to 2017. Between approximately 2013 and approximately 2015, Woods used his official position as a senator to appropriate and direct government money, known as General Improvement Funds (GIF), to two non-profit entities by, among other things, directly authorizing GIF disbursements and advising other Arkansas legislators – including former State Representative Micah Neal, 43, of Springdale, Arkansas, to contribute GIF to the non-profits.

Specifically, Woods and Neal authorized and directed the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, which was responsible for disbursing the GIF, to award a total of approximately $600,000 in GIF money to the two non-profit entities. The evidence further showed that Woods and Neal received bribes from officials at both non-profits, including Paris, who was the president of a college. Woods initially facilitated $200,000 of GIF money to the college and later, together with Neal, directed another $200,000 to the college, all in exchange for kickbacks. To pay and conceal the kickbacks to Woods and Neal, Paris paid a portion of the GIF to Shelton’s consulting company. Shelton then kept a portion of the money and paid the other portion to Woods and Neal. Paris also bribed Woods by hiring Woods’s friend to an administrative position at the college.

For his part in the scheme, Neal pleaded guilty on Jan. 4, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks of the Western District of Arkansas to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. Paris pleaded guilty on April 5, 2018, before Judge Brooks to one count of honest services wire fraud.

Sentencing for Neal will be later this month.

Woods was sentenced September 5, 2018, to 220 months in federal prison and Shelton was sentenced September 6, 2018, to 72 months in federal prison.

The FBI and IRS investigated the case. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Elser, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyra Jenner and Aaron Jennen of the Western District of Arkansas and Trial Attorney Sean F. Mulryne of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section prosecuted the case.

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