Corruption case evidence remains under seal

Posted: November 26, 2017 at 1:08 a.m.

File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Former state Sen. Jon Woods (right) walks with his attorney Patrick Benca (far left) and others from the Benca Law Firm to the John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Building on March 28 in Fayetteville.

The federal government is keeping private much of its core evidence in the public corruption case against former state Sen. Jon Woods and two other men.

Randell Shelton Jr. is shown in this file photo.

Oren Paris III of Springdale, president of Ecclesia College, is shown in this file photo.


Former state Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale faces fraud charges in a federal indictment. Woods is accused of taking kickbacks from Oren Paris III, president of Ecclesia College in Springdale, in return for directing state grants to the college. Randell Shelton of Alma is accused of being the middle man who passed the bribes to Woods through his consulting firm in return for a share.

Paris and Shelton are also charged with wire fraud. All three are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud. Woods is also charged with one count of money laundering.

Woods faces one count of fraud involving a second nonprofit, a job training program called AmeriWorks. The nonprofit was incorporated by Rusty Cranford, a onetime executive for Decision Point, a Bentonville-based drug treatment program.

The following timeline is based on federal court records, records from the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District and reporting by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


• Feb. 18: Woods files and sponsors bill to steer state money to the Northwest Arkansas Development District in Harrison, which would later distribute Improvement Fund grants.

• March 18: Woods votes to OK $2 million disbursement to the development district for improvement fund grants.

• April 22-23: Woods votes to appropriate the $2 million previously OK’d.

• June: Woods tells Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, that Rusty Cranford of AmeriWorks will give 20 percent kickback on improvement fund grants.

• June 26: Cranford emails Decision Point employees telling them to fill out application for AmeriWorks for $250,00 and assuring them it will be approved. Cranford represents Decision Point as a lobbyist.

• July 9: Cranford sends Decision Point employees a revised application increasingy the amount to $400,000.

• July 26: Neal emails development district to say he’s partnering with Woods to give AmeriWorks $400,000.

• Aug. 5: Paris hires a female friend of Woods as an assistant at Ecclesia College to be paid $43,000 in salary and a $4,000 hiring bonus. The college’s improvement fund application is drafted.

• Aug. 7: The college increases the grant amount requested from $105,000 to $130,000. The friend of Woods’ who is hired has her hiring bonus increased to $7,000.

• Aug. 19: Woods texts Paris to increase request to $200,000.

• Sept. 3: Cranford applies to district for $400,000 for AmeriWorks.

• Sept. 22-27: Paris hires Shelton as consultant.

• Sept. 26: Cranford receives $275,000 from Woods and $125,000 from Neal in grants. Checks made out to Decision Point doing business as AmeriWorks.

• Sept. 26: Shelton incorporates Paradigm Consulting.

• Sept. 27: Paris signs grant agreement; pays Shelton $50,000; Shelton opens Paradigm account at bank and deposits $50,000.

• Sept. 30: Checks deposited in AmeriWork’s account.

• October: Cranford pays Woods an undisclosed amount of cash. Woods pays Neal $20,000.

• Oct. 1: Shelton wires $40,000 to Woods’ personal account; Woods withdraws $33,000 and buys a cashier’s check.

• Oct. 3: College deposits $200,000 into its account; Paris gets $25,000 bonus payment from college’s board of directors.

• Oct. 15: Cranford writes check for $16,500 to his consulting business from AmeriWorks account.


• Aug. 13: Federal officials interview Cranford about his dealings with Woods. Cranford returns grant money, saying he couldn’t acquire the necessary facility.

• November: Development district tells Woods and Neal that AmeriWorks returned its grant. They agree to send $200,000 to Ecclesia.


• Feb. 11: Woods files bill, which later becomes law, making millions more in Improvement Fund money available to work study colleges. Ecclesia was the only college in Arkansas that qualified for the money.

• June 2: Paris submits two grant applications for $33,000 and $250,000.

Oct. 23


• April 13: U.S. Attorney’s office subpoenas Northwest Arkansas Development District, AmeriWorks, Cranford and any entities associated with him; also for records of any grants involving Paris and Ecclesia College.


• Jan. 4: Neal pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud.

• January: Cranford replaced as executive director of Arkansas operations for Decision Point and related groups.

• March 1: Woods, Shelton and Paris indicted.

• April 19: U.S. Attorney files revised indictment.

• May 23: Remarks at a pre-trial hearing reveal the federal investigation is still underway and more indictments are expected of other parties before Woods, Paris and Shelton’s Dec. 4 trial.

• Sept. 13: A second revised indictment is filed against Woods, Paris and Shelton, adding a count of conspiracy to commit fraud.

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