Former Arkansas State Senator and Consultant Convicted for Bribery Scheme
A former Arkansas State Senator and an Arkansas consultant have been convicted for a bribery scheme in which state funds were directed to non-profit entities in exchange for kickbacks funneled through the consultant’s business, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Duane “DAK” Kees for the Western District of Arkansas.
Jonathan E. Woods, 40, of Springdale, Arkansas, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, 12 counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of honest services mail fraud and one count of money laundering. Randell G. Shelton Jr., 38, of Alma, Arkansas, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, 10 counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of honest services mail fraud.
“Jonathan Woods abused his position as an Arkansas State Senator by soliciting and accepting kickbacks and Randall Shelton helped him cover it up by funneling the kickbacks through his consulting company,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “The Criminal Division is committed to preserving the public’s confidence in our government by investigating and prosecuting corrupt public officials and those that help them conceal their crimes.”
“Abuse of the public trust cannot be tolerated and must be met with severe consequences,” said U.S. Attorney Kees. “I hope this verdict serves as a warning to all those that have been entrusted with serving the people.”
According to the evidence presented at trial, Woods 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 Oren Paris III, 49, of Springdale, Arkansas, 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, before Judge Brooks to one count of honest services wire fraud. Sentencings will be scheduled at a later date.
The FBI and IRS investigated the case. Trial Attorney Sean F. Mulryne of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Elser and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyra Jenner and Aaron Jennen of the Western District of Arkansas are prosecuting the case.