Federal Judge Timothy Brooks last week denied motions by former Republican Sen. Jon Woods and his friend Randell Shelton to set aside guilty verdicts in their jury trial for kickback schemes involving state money and Ecclesia College and Ameriworks.
Woods is to be sentenced Sept. 5 and Shelton is to be sentenced the following day.
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Both had moved following the trial for judgments of acquittal or a new trial. They made a number of arguments, including in Woods’ case improper jury instructions about a scheme to defraud. He wanted to use a standard in a case where a plumbing inspector took $5 payments. This was not remotely comparable, the judge said, to “the solicitation and receipt of tens of thousands of dollars in bribes by state legislators from private entities, in exchange for the discretionary direction of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to those entities.” The judge also wasn’t sympathetic to Woods’ argument that the jury’s return of a guilty verdict in less than two hours after receiving additional instructions, given the amount of testimony, “shocks the conscience.” The judge said Woods “artfully” avoided mentioning the two days of deliberation the jury had devoted before the additional instructions.
The judge detailed July 25 — in what amounts to a useful summary of the case — why he believes the evidence was sufficient for the jury’s guilty verdicts. It included bank records and the testimony of former Republican Rep. Micah Neal about the kickback schemes. The decision was expected.
Here’s the judge’s order denying acquittal or a new trial. With this step completed, the defendants can proceed to appeal the convictions, which they had previously indicated they would do. The judge also dismissed Shelton’s argument that an FBI agent hadn’t substantially complied with a trial subpoena. The judge said the agent appeared and testified.
Also this week, Woods filed a “response/objection” to the pre-sentencing report prepared by the federal probation office in his case. The report and his response are under seal.
Neal and Oren Paris, the Ecclesia College president who pleaded guilty, also are to be sentenced in September.
I found striking the matter-of-fact recitation of one particular bit of thievery by the judge. You can’t help but wonder, given the nakedness of this transaction, if it was a singular event in the annals of the legislature.