- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

A former Arkansas lawmaker and two others have been named in a federal indictment released Thursday alleging corruption involving state funds intended for economic development in a case in which another former lawmaker has already pleaded guilty.

Former Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale is charged with mail and wire fraud in the 13-count indictment that also names Oren Paris III and Randell Shelton Jr.

The indictment alleges Woods, a Republican who served in the state House from 2007-2012 before being elected to the state Senate in 2013, and Republican former Rep. Micah Neal of Springdale directed the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District to distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state’s general improvement fund that is intended for economic development to specific, unnamed entities.

Neither Woods nor Neal sought re-election in 2016.

According to the indictment, Woods and Neal, using their positions as state lawmakers, “exerted substantial control and authority over a specific amount of NWAEDD GIF monies, and the NWAEDD awarded these GIF monies only to eligible organizations approved by Woods and Neal and in the amounts designated by Woods and Neal.”

The NWAEDD is not accused of wrongdoing.

Paris, who is listed by Ecclesia College in Springdale as its president, is identified only as president of “Entity A,” which is described in the indictment as “a non-profit corporation operating a college located in Springdale, Arkansas.”

Shelton is described as the incorporator and sole member of a company listed only as “Entity B,” and as a friend of Woods and Paris.

Woods did not return a phone call seeking comment, and a phone call to Ecclesia College seeking comment from Paris was not immediately returned. A working phone number for Shelton could not be found and online court documents did not list attorneys for any of the men to speak on their behalf.

A phone call to federal prosecutors also was not immediately returned.

Neal pleaded guilty in January to arranging kickbacks with a then-unnamed former state senator.

“He’s acknowledging what he did was wrong,” lawyer Shane Wilkinson of Bentonville said at the time. “I suspect that as these things unfold that Micah will be perceived on the low end of the totem pole of culpability.”

Neal said he received $38,000 from funds awarded to two entities by the NWAEDD. One was a nonprofit corporation set up to arrange manufacturing jobs for disabled veterans, disadvantaged youth and those recovering from substance abuse. The other was a nonprofit college in Springdale.

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