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story.lead_photo.caption Former state Sen. Jake Files walks into the Judge Isaac C. Parker Federal Building in Fort Smith in this file photo.

FORT SMITH -- Former state Sen. Jake Files, who pleaded guilty last year to stealing almost $26,000 in state grant money, has moved from an Oklahoma federal prison to a halfway house in Little Rock in preparation for a Nov. 11 scheduled release.

Files, an Arkansas legislator for 12 years, pleaded guilty Jan. 29, 2018, to wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud in connection with stealing from a state General Improvement Fund grant and pledging a forklift he didn't own as collateral for a bank loan.

He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $83,903 in restitution.

Federal Bureau of Prisons records don't identify the location of Files' halfway house, which the agency calls a residential reentry center. The secrecy is for protection of inmates who are soon to be released, a prisons spokesman said.

However, Charles Robbins, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Duane "Dak" Kees' office in Fort Smith, said Tuesday that Files is in a halfway house in Little Rock.

An Aug. 6 court filing by Kees' office said Files was scheduled to be released to the City of Faith halfway house on or about Sept. 30. City of Faith runs the only federal halfway house in Arkansas, according to its executive director, Terry Williams.

Bureau of Prisons records also don't indicate when Files moved from the federal prison in El Reno, Okla., where his 18-month sentence began on Aug. 3, 2018.

Court filings as recent as Aug. 2 show Files' address as the El Reno prison. Files submitted a request then for immediate release from prison to in-house confinement, based on model inmate behavior and recent laws affecting prison release dates.

The U.S. attorney's office opposed Files' request. U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes on Aug. 7 denied it.

An Aug. 12 note in Files' federal case record shows a court document mailed to Files at the El Reno prison after Aug. 7 was "returned as undeliverable."

Federal prison reentry centers such as City of Faith provide services such as employment counseling, job placement, financial-management assistance and substance-abuse treatment. Their aim is to "help inmates gradually rebuild their ties to the community and facilitate supervising ex-offenders' activities during this readjustment phase," according to the Bureau of Prisons website.

Inmates are monitored and counted daily, but are allowed to leave the centers for work, visits and other reasons, according to the prisons agency.

The federal wire-fraud and money-laundering charges against Files were linked to a Fort Smith athletic facility construction project called River Valley Sports Complex. The bank-fraud charge concerned the wrongful bank loan.

While acting as a developer for the baseball complex, Files provided legislator approval needed to secure a $46,500 General Improvement Fund grant to pay for utility work there.

Also required were three separate bids for the work.

Files' plea agreement said he created three fictitious bids. The low bid was listed as submitted by Dianna Gonzalez, according to state grant records. Gonzalez was an employee of Files' construction company.

In late December 2016, the city issued a $25,945.91 check from the grant to a Gonzalez account. Files instructed Gonzalez to open another bank account and deposit the grant money there, his plea agreement and other court records show. He also told her to immediately withdraw $14,000 cash and a cashier's check for $11,931.91 payable to Files' FFH Construction LLC.

Gonzalez delivered the cash and check to Files, she told authorities. She saw Files dole out the cash to pay his employees and pocket the rest, according to her affidavit. He deposited the cashier's check into a bank account in his name.

Files was the only person charged in the grant theft.

Fort Smith's ballpark project is still unfinished and unusable.

Metro on 10/10/2019

Print Headline: Ex-Sen. Files leaves prison for halfway house; release near

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