- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - A federal appeals court has refused to dismiss a corruption case involving a former Arkansas lawmaker before trial begins next month.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal Tuesday for lack of jurisdiction, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported .

Former Sen. Jon Woods, Oren Paris III and Randell G. Shelton face several counts of fraud in an alleged kickback scheme involving state grants.

Attorneys for the trio based their appeal on the fact that FBI Special Agent Robert Cessario, who was in charge of the case, erased the hard drive of a laptop used in the investigation after being ordered to turn it over for inspection.

The appeal followed a March 2 ruling by U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks that also refused a motion to dismiss charges. Brooks said that Cessario’s actions were wrong but that a grand jury issued an indictment against the trio and the public has an interest in seeing it prosecuted.



Brooks’ ruling to proceed to trial violated the defendants’ rights to due process because of “the bad faith destruction of evidence potentially useful to the defendants by the government,” the notice of appeal stated.

“We are disappointed that the 8th Circuit dismissed our appeal for lack of jurisdiction and are currently reviewing our options,” said Shelly Hogan Koehler, an attorney for Shelton.

Paris is president of Ecclesia College in Springdale and had hired Shelton as a consultant, according to court records. The U.S. Justice Department alleged that Paris paid kickbacks to Woods and then-state Rep. Micah Neal in return for $550,000 in grants from the state General Improvement Fund to the college in 2013 and 2014. The kickbacks were paid through consulting fees Paris paid to Shelton, according to court records. Neal pleaded guilty last year to a conspiracy count for his role but has not been sentenced.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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