More Indictments Expected in Ecclesia Kickback Case

More Indictments Expected in Ecclesia Kickback Case
Former Rep. Micah Neal, Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III and former Sen. Jon Woods (Composite photo illustration)

Since the Bible college in Springdale is about to be in the news again, Whispers thought it might be a good time to nail down exactly how to pronounce Ecclesia College.

It’s “Ek-luh-SEE-uh.” It’s a transliteration of the Greek word for a public assembly, and it is translated as “church” in dozens of places in English versions of the New Testament.

The small (about 200 students) Christian college has been the recipient of hundreds of thousands of state taxpayer dollars, thanks to the generosity of legislators like former Rep. Micah Neal and former Sen. Jon Woods and others.

Neal, you’ll recall, started 2017 off right by pleading guilty to a federal felony related to taking kickbacks from a couple of nonprofit organizations to which he directed state General Improvement Fund grants.

Federal prosecutors haven’t identified the nonprofits, but Whispers named them last month: Ecclesia Inc., the nonprofit that operates Ecclesia College, and Alternative Opportunities Inc. of Springfield, Missouri, which did business as Decision Point. (Decision Point was acquired by Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. of Kirksville, Missouri, in May 2015, after the period during which Neal admitted taking bribes, January 2013 to January 2015.)

While Neal didn’t wait to be indicted before pleading guilty, a strategy that can minimize both prison time and legal costs, Whispers is reliably informed that related indictments are merely days away. And they will center on Ecclesia, where Oren Paris III is president of the college his father founded. (Paris is referred to in Neal’s plea agreement as “Person B.”)

Neal’s plea agreement also referred to a “Person C” who acted as a go-between for Ecclesia and Neal. Other news organizations have hinted — mainly since he was named in a subpoena along with Ecclesia, Woods and Paris — that Person C is Randell Shelton.

Whispers can now confirm that identity. A message left last week with the attorney believed to represent Shelton was not returned.

Neal’s plea agreement describes Person C as “the incorporator and sole member of a limited liability corporation incorporated in the State of Arkansas that purportedly provides consulting services,” and the secretary of state’s records describe Shelton as the “incorporator/organizer” (in 2013) of Paradigm Strategic Consulting, a Little Rock limited liability company whose incorporation status has since been revoked.