Kickback objection kicked in Woods case

Posted: November 4, 2017 at 1:07 a.m.

Jon Woods (from left) Randell Shelton Jr. and Oren Paris

FAYETTEVILLE -- Defense attorneys in the kickback case involving former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, lost their claim government attorneys didn't provide usable documents to the defense in a timely manner, court documents released Friday show.

Woods; Oren Paris III, president of Ecclesia College in Springdale; and consultant Randell Shelton Jr., formerly of Alma, are accused of participating in a plan to pay Woods, who was in office at the time, and another legislator kickbacks in return for steering state General Improvement Fund grants to the college. All three plead not guilty and are set for trial in federal court in Fayetteville on Dec. 4.

Defense attorneys filed objections starting in September, claiming voluminous documents turned over to them by the government for their use in defending their clients were in an electronic form that couldn't be searched and files were imprecisely named or otherwise identified, making them practically unusable in the time left before the trial. The motion asked the government to either provide those documents in a usable form or the court bar the use of those documents at trial.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks ruled the government provided more information than the law required to the defense and did so in both a usable form and well within court deadlines, according to a court order dated Friday. Brooks acknowledges in the order efforts to extract the information were time consuming but still within limits, and would have been far quicker if the defense had agreed to acquire the software recommended by government attorneys.

"Defense counsel's frustration over wasted time is understandable, but the court does not believe these facts support a finding of bad faith," the order reads. "Rather, in essence, it would appear to the court that the government attempted to provide defense counsel with a separate, additional production of materials that, while relevant, it was not even required to produce under the federal rules or this court orders."

As for the time spent trying to extract the information, "the court does not see how that is any more the fault of the government than of the defendants or their counsel," the order reads. Software to speedily extract the information was available at a cost of $1,400 but instead the defense "decided to devote 'dozens of hours' to in-house computer troubleshooting," the order read, rather than purchase the recommended software. The billable man-hours spent troubleshooting almost certainly cost the defendants more than $1,400, Brooks' order notes.

All three law firms for defendants in the case were contacted by email late Friday afternoon but none replied by early evening with a comment.

Woods faces 15 counts of fraud, all relating to either wire or mail transfers of money. Paris and Shelton are named in 14 of the fraud charges.

All three defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud. Woods is also charged with one count of money laundering in connection with the purchase of a cashier's check.

Paris paid fees to Shelton's consulting firm, according to their indictment. Shelton in turn passed kickbacks to Woods and then-state Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, according to the indictment. Neal pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy on Jan. 4.

NW News on 11/04/2017