- Associated Press - Thursday, September 28, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - The three defendants accused in a kickback scheme with state grants in northwest Arkansas have renewed their not guilty pleas to a revised indictment.

Former state Sen. Jon Woods, Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III and consultant Randell Shelton Jr. entered not guilty pleas Wednesday to charges, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The revised indictment includes one count of conspiracy to commit fraud for the three defendants.

Justice Department officials said Paris paid Woods and former state Rep. Micah Neal kickbacks for a total of $550,000 in grants for his college from 2013 to 2014. Shelton is accused of using his consulting firm to pass the kickbacks to Woods and Neal through consulting fees Paris approved.

Woods also faces 15 counts of fraud and one count of money laundering. Paris and Shelton face 14 fraud charges.

The defendants didn’t attend their arraignment Wednesday and signed waivers to allow their attorneys to speak for them.

Defense attorneys also filed a motion filed Monday, saying the government isn’t providing them useable electronic records. The motion says that defense attorneys were presented with more than 4 million computer files. The defense said Wednesday that the files were only numbered and not named, giving no clue to their contents. They said some of the files also lacked dates.

“It was as if someone backed up to your office in a tractor-trailer with 1,700 boxes filled with 4.3 million documents, all unmarked,” said Travis Story, an attorney for Paris.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas is preparing a reply to the defense’s motion, said Charles Robbins, a spokesman for the office.

Woods, Paris and Shelton are scheduled for trial Dec. 4. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison on fraud conspiracy charges. Woods faces an additional 10 years on the money laundering charge.

Neal pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud Jan. 4. He hasn’t been sentenced.

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This story has been corrected to show the defense’s motion was filed on Monday, not Wednesday.

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Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.nwaonline.com

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