Doug Thompson at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette continues to provide great coverage of the federal corruption case against former state Sen. Jon Woods.
The jury — six men and six women — was selected yesterday and opening statements began. The first witness will be called by the government today and the trial is expected to last three or four weeks. The witness list includes a who’s who of Arkansas state politics, including the state treasurer, the state auditor, the state GOP chairman, and numerous current and former Republican lawmakers.
Federal prosecutors allege that Woods took kickbacks from state money he guided to Ecclesia College and a mental health agency. Two alleged co-conspirators, Oren Paris III, president of the college, and former state Rep. Micah Neal, have already pleaded guilty.
Also on trial is Randell Shelton Jr., a friend of Woods and Paris who allegedly participated in the scheme. Paris pleaded guilty less than a week before the trial began, suddenly flipping from co-defendant to cooperating with the government.
From Thompson’s report from the courtroom, at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas:
“This case is about the betrayal of the people of Arkansas by this defendant, Jon Woods,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Elser said in his opening statement Tuesday afternoon. …
Woods could do nothing as a state senator by himself, his defense attorney told jurors. Woods’ attorney Patrick Benca of Little Rock told the jury other colleges and universities hire lobbyists and consultants to draw millions in state grants. Every step of the improvement fund grant process is subject to either the approval of other lawmakers, the review of attorneys or regional board approval, Benca said in his opening statement.
Thompson also takes a very deep dive into the details of the case and the convoluted and colorful courtroom machinations leading up to the trial (for those interested, the version in the Northwest Arkansas edition is much longer than the story printed in this morning’s D-G).