Paris makes last-minute effort to stay out of prison

Posted: October 10, 2018 at 12:32 p.m.

FILE — Oren Paris III (left) heads to federal court on Sept. 12 in Fayetteville to be sentenced for his part in a kickback scheme involving the college he headed.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Former Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III will report to federal prison at 1 p.m. today in Marion, Ill. unless the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit grants a motion requested Tuesday, said Travis Story, his attorney.

Paris pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in the kickback scheme benefiting then-state Sen. Jon Woods and then-state Rep. Micah Neal, both of Springdale. Under the scheme, Ecclesia College received state General Improvement Fund grants directed by the two lawmakers. Paris then paid fees to consultant Randell Shelton Jr. of Kemp, Texas who passed along kickbacks to Woods and Neal.

In all, including grants by lawmakers who are not implicated in the scheme, the private religious college in Springdale received $715,000 in state General Improvement Fund grants from 2013 to 2015.

Paris was sentenced Sept. 12 to three years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He must pay $621,500 in restitution for grants involved in the kickback scheme. He must also pay a $100 special assessment.

Paris pleaded guilty five days before his trial with Shelton and Woods began. His guilty plea includes a provision allowing him to continue his appeal, claiming the charges never should have been filed because of problems with the case. Those problems include the wiping of the hard drive of a computer used to gather evidence.

The appeal motion states U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks should have followed the "conditional language" of Paris' plea agreement, which said the U.S. Attorney's Office would not oppose Paris' request to remain free on bond while his case was on appeal. Paris' attorneys also claim government prosecutors violated the plea agreement by raising an unjustified doubt on whether Paris met the conditions to qualify for release pending appeal. Brooks denied a motion Oct. 5 to leave Paris free on bond.

Paris poses no risk whatsoever of flight or to the community if left free, Tuesday's motion contends.

Paris must report to the Marion Illinois Minimum Security Satellite Camp by 1 p.m. today unless his appeal ti the 8th Circuit is granted, Story said.

Woods, who with Shelton was convicted by a federal jury in May, started serving his prison sentence of 18 years and four months on Sept. 26 at a facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Brooks earlier denied Woods' request to remain free while appealing his conviction. Woods also is ordered to pay $1.6 million in restitution, forfeit $1 million in assets and pay a $1,500 special assessment.

Neal pleaded guilty in January 2017 and agreed to testify against his co-conspirators. Neal was sentenced Sept. 13 to three years' probation, including a year of house arrest, and ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution.

Shelton was sentenced Sept. 6 to six years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He is required to pay $660,698 in restitution, a separate $664,000 money judgment and a $1,200 special assessment. He reported Monday to a prison near Beaumont, Texas.

NW News on 10/11/2018