Jon Woods, the former state senator from Springdale, was sentenced Wednesday to 220 months — more than 18 years — in prison for his role in a conspiracy to deliver kickbacks on state grants given to nonprofits at his direction.
Woods, 41, was convicted in U.S. District Court in May of 15 counts: one count each of honest services mail fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and money laundering plus 12 counts of honest services wire fraud.
In addition to prison time, U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks sentenced Woods to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $1.6 million in restitution. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term between 324 months and 405 months, a span that Brooks called “out of whack” compared to the seriousness of Woods’ actions.
Woods’ defense attorney, Patrick Benca of Little Rock, asked for no jail time and community service for Woods; Brooks called that idea “absurd.” Woods must report for his sentence on Sept. 26.
Brooks said he wanted Woods’ sentence to serve as a “general deterrent” for future officials who may want to behave similarly. Brooks said mitigating factors for Woods was his lack of a criminal history, the good works he had done as a legislator and the fact that his criminal acts were nonviolent.
However, Brooks left little to interpretation in criticizing Woods’ “bastardization” of the legislative process and the methodical way Woods cheated the system. Brooks said Woods figured out a way to make himself an important political player so that every time the wheels of government grinded, he would collect “juice” for himself.
"Your entire way of thinking about what your job was was to put money in your pocket," Judge Brooks told Woods at sentencing. "I find that grotesque. I find it inordinately serious."
Woods declined to address the court when given the chance; Woods and his defense team plan to appeal his convictions. His sentence came after Judge Brooks rejected Woods' objections to a presentence report filed by federal probation officers.
At one point, Brooks read a sample of an oath of office an elected official takes before taking his or her position. Brooks emphasized the “faithfully” part of the oath.
“Your offense conduct, at its essence, is a violation of the public trust,” Brooks said. “That is particularly and uniquely offensive.
“You breached that oath. That is a sacred oath. You violated the very fabric of that oath. You stole from the very people you asked for votes.”
The judge sentenced Woods to 220 months each on 14 counts, to be served concurrently. The money laundering conviction drew a 120-month sentence, to be served concurrently with the others. The federal justice system has no parole, although convicts may have their sentences reduced slightly for good behavior.
"This sentence should send a message to the people who would abuse the trust of Arkansas voters and citizens," Western District U.S. Attorney Duane Kees said in a statement. "It should serve as a serious warning to those who would intentionally steal money from taxpayers and use their elected office to both commit and conceal their crimes."
A co-conspirator, political consultant Randell Shelton of Alma, was also convicted in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.
Brooks expressed he believed Woods would be prone to re-offend after his release from prison.
“You have serious criminal thinking issues,” Brooks said. “I do have concerns that when you’re released, you’ll be scheming again.”
Woods and Shelton were convicted followed the guilty pleas of two others engaged in the same kickback scheme: former state Rep. Micah Neal, also of Springdale, and Oren Paris III, the former president of Ecclesia College, a small Christian college in Springdale that was the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants.
Paris is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 12 and Neal the following day.