Former State Senator sentenced to 18 years in prison for bribery scheme

“Jonathan Woods violated the public’s trust and misused his authority for the purpose of lining his own pockets."

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Image Credit: Arkansas Business

Found guilty on 15 counts, including conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering, former Arkansas State Senator Jonathan Woods was sentenced Wednesday to serve more than 18 years in federal prison. In addition, U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks sentenced Woods to serve three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay over $1.6 million in restitution.

While serving as Arkansas state senator from 2013 to 2015, Woods and other Arkansas legislators, including former State Representative Micah Neal, accepted bribes from officials at nonprofit entities in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in government grants. According to the evidence presented at trial, Ecclesia College’s former president, Oren Paris III, also bribed Woods by hiring Woods’s friend to an administrative position at the college.

On January 4, 2017, former State Representative Micah Neal pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 13.

On April 5, Paris pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud. Less than a month later, Woods was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, 12 counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of honest services mail fraud, and one count of money laundering.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks of the Western District of Arkansas sentenced Woods to serve 220 months in federal prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay $1,621,500 in restitution.

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“Jonathan Woods abused his position as an Arkansas State Senator and betrayed the public trust by taking bribes and kickbacks,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski. “This conviction demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Justice and our federal partners to investigate and prosecute public officials who misuse their authority to benefit themselves at the expense of the citizens they pledged to serve.”

“This sentence should send a message to the people who would abuse the trust of Arkansas voters and citizens,” stated U.S. Attorney Duane Kees. “It should serve as a serious warning to those who would intentionally steal money from taxpayers and use their elected office to both commit and conceal their crimes. As I stated after the jury trial concluded, my office, along with the Criminal Division from the Department of Justice, will continue to investigate, pursue and prosecute public corruption cases in Arkansas in order to ensure the fairness and justice that the people of Arkansas deserve.”

“Jonathan Woods violated the public’s trust and misused his authority for the purpose of lining his own pockets,” said Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch with the Little Rock FBI Field Office.

Paris is scheduled to be sentenced on September 12.

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