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Former State Sen. Jon Woods to Be Sentenced Wednesday

2 min read

Jon Woods, the former state senator from Springdale, is scheduled for sentencing Wednesday in Fayetteville, and his co-defendant in a notorious public corruption case will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks on Thursday.

Woods and political consultant Randell Shelton were convicted in U.S. District Court in May in  a conspiracy to deliver kickbacks on state grants given to nonprofits at Woods’ direction.

Woods was convicted 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. Shelton, of Alma, was convicted on 12 counts: one each of count of honest services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud plus 10 counts of honest services wire fraud.

Their conviction 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.

Neal filed a sentencing memorandum last week, but it is under seal, as requested by defense attorney Shane Wilkinson. Federal prosecutors also filed a sentencing memorandum which suggests that Neal has objected to being held responsible for the amount of money that Woods directed to Ecclesia College and a nonprofit called AmeriWorks affiliated with Preferred Family Healthcare and its lobbyist, Rusty Cranford.

Cranford has pleaded guilty to corruption charges in a separate but related federal investigation in Missouri.

According to the government’s memorandum, Neal argues that the loss amount to be considered in his sentencing should include only the $125,000 General Improvement Fund grant that he directed to Cranford’s AmeriWorks and $50,000 that he directed to Ecclesia. The difference is important in calculating federal sentencing guidelines and could mean several more months in federal prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth P. Elser, the prosecutor in Neal’s case, argues in the government’s memorandum that Neal was deeply involved in the conspiracy with Woods and that the Federal Probation & Pretrial Services System was correct in its presentence report holding him jointly responsible for the total amount.

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