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

FAYETTEVILLE -- Government attorneys responded to claims they provided unusable documents to defense attorneys in the kickback case involving former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, by offering technical assistance and a link to a website with a free download.

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 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 an objection Monday that 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 was imprecisely named or otherwise identified, making them practically unusable in the time left before the trial. The motion asked the government either provide those documents in a usable form or the court bar the use of those documents at trial.

The government's reply, posted Friday, says the files can be searched using software available for download free of charge. The government used the same software, called DocFetcher, to index its copy of the documents in a process that took about five hours, the response motion said. The government will provide additional hard drives with the documents to make sure attorneys for each of the defendants has a copy, the response motion said.

In effect, the government has admitted it didn't submit the documents in a usable form by issuing instructions on how to use them now, said Shelly Koehler of Fayetteville, attorney for Shelton. Koehler filed the original defense motion on behalf of all defendants. The defense attorneys haven't had time as of Friday afternoon to see if the government's proposed solution works, she said. Even if the solution works, the practical effect has been to delay defense access to evidence for weeks, she said.

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 are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, which was the count added in the latest revised indictment. 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 09/30/2017

Print Headline: Government offers tech support in kickback case

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