The federal court files released last week in the Jon Woods corruption trial consist primarily of defense arguments to suppress evidence because of governmental misconduct and Woods initial representation by his attorney W.H. Taylor. Revelations include new allegations concerning Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson; an unidentified legislator once ready to testify against Woods and excerpts from tapes by co-defendant Micah Neal talking about his early cooperation with the government and his first lawyer’s unsuccessful effort to get him to come clean to lessen his jail time.
Sentencing is set to begin over several days this week for Woods, Neal, former Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III and Randell Shelton, a middleman between Woods and Ecclesia in a kickback scheme.
Just released is this statement Micah Neal gave the FBI in April 2016 (some spellings corrected):
MICAH NEAL (NEAL), previously identified, was interviewed at the law office of Shawn Wilkinson. After being advised of the identity of the interviewing Agent and the nature of the interview, NEAL provided the following information:
NEAL advised that JON WOODS (WOODS) was going to fire his attorney, WH Taylor and was going to hire Patrick Benca. WOODS has been contacting RANDELL SHELTON, RUSTY CRANFORD , and OREN PARIS through [state Rep.] JANA DELLA ROSA and [former state Rep.] TIM SUMMERS.
WOODS told NEAL not to talk to the FBI and that the FBI had no evidence he did anything wrong.
PATSY WOOTEN is JANA DELLA ROSA’s mother and is loyal to WOODS. WOODS is running Clint Penzo ‘s campaign.
JEREMY HUTCHINSON (HUTCHINSON) has an airplane in the Saline County airport. NEAL surmised HUTCHINSON is trading hangar fees for GIF funds. HUTCHINSON told NEAL that he wanted to trade his GIF funds for his children’s tuition at Shiloh High school.
JOHN CHEEK owns a company called OUR HOUSE and is very good friends with HUTCHINSON. OUR HOUSE is a nonprofit in Saline county that receives 70K in GIF funds from HUTCHINSON.
No crimes have subsequently been alleged in any of these dealings, though Shiloh Christian was targeted for some GIF money, according to another document, for coaches to participate in a clinic.
Among the arguments raised in defense pleadings were government interference in elections by allegedly encouraging Woods not to seek re-election to the Senate and to encourage Micah Neal to drop out of a race for county judge after he decided against seeking re-election to the House. The government categorically denied the allegations.
Among the evidence for arguments was a statement from Christine Woods, Jon Woods’ wife.
Although Jon knew he was under investigation for alleged public corruption, he planned on running for re-election of his seat for the 2018 – 2021 term.
Al the time he was informed of the public com1ption investigation, Jon hired W.H. Taylor to represent him.
The Arkansas Republican Primary filing period for filing for re-election was from November 2, 2015 – November 9, 2015.
On October 20, 2015, an event was held celebrating Governor Asa Hutchinson’s endorsement of Jon for re-election at the home of Philip Taldo, Governor Hutchinson’s childhood best friend.
I was present at a meeting with Jon and Mr. Taylor on the morning of Saturday, October 31, 2015, at or around 9:30 a.m. Mr. Taylor had us park behind his office.
During this meeting, Mr. Taylor informed both Jon and me that Acting United States Attorney Kenneth Elser had told him (Mr. Taylor) that Jon should not run for re-election.
Jon argued with Mr. Taylor about this because the filing period opened in two (2) days and he had already planned to run for re-election.
Mr. Taylor reiterated on several occasions that Mr. Elser said Jon should not run for re-election.
The government denied this, questioned the impartiality of the spouse and said, in any case, it was only a quote of what Taylor purportedly said.
Sadly, there are extensive redactions in phone conversations between the government and several legislators. Another redaction omitted the name of a legislator who was prepared to testify about Woods’ suggestion he could cure a financial hardship by doing “consulting” for nonprofits. This information developed shortly before trial,
The Government intends to offer the testimony from former Arkansas Representative REDACTED that, in 2012, it was known to his legislative colleagues, including Defendant Woods, that he was experiencing financial hardship. REDACTED is expected to testify that during 2012, Defendant Woods asked him if he “wanted to make some money. ”
REDACTED is expected to testify that in response to this question from Defendant Woods that he said “yes.” REDACTED is expected to testify that Defendant Woods stated that they could make extra money doing consulting work with non-profits. It is also expected that Defendant Woods stated that they could help unspecified non-profits in receiving unspecified grants in exchange for payment. It is anticipated that REDACTED would testify that Defendant Woods spoke to him about this proposition on several occasions. It is also anticipated that REDACTED would testify that he lost interest in this proposition once Defendant Woods advised him that they would receive payments in cash for their help in obtaining grants for non-profits. It is also expected that REDACTED would testify that his conversations with Woods about this subject ended around the same time that Micah Neal took office.
The released information included excerpts from the surreptitious tapes Micah Neal made relative to statements given by Woods in 2015 as “proffer” to the government. This was information that could not be used against him, but which could help the government evaluate whether he’d be a useful cooperating witness. It was here that Woods and his first attorney, W.H. Taylor began parting ways. Woods, who’d already told Taylor some information about the schemes, was
Oren Parris revealed this in a motion to suppress the Neal tapes.
In the course of the interview, granted under a FRCP Rule 11 proffer agreement, Woods provided information to the Governn1ent about various alleged schemes of financial impropriety involving a number of individuals, players both inside and out of the State government of Arkansas. One such scheme outlined in the Woods’ proffer was that he, Woods, was involved in a ·kickback scheme regarding Arkansas General Improvement Fund grants to a local college whose President is Defendant Dr. Oren Paris, III. Woods proceeded to allege that Dr. Paris had full knowledge and was an active participant in said scheme.
But Paris’ attorney argued that Woods was forced into saying this by his attorney. It offered as evidence a transcript from a tape made by Neal while talking to Woods. Paris’ attorney argued that it sounded like Taylor was acting more like an agent of the government than a defense attorney. The transcript:
WOODS: So, they said “We know you got money out of that 2 million.”
And I said, ” the governor took a million.”‘ I said, “Rusty only got a million out of that and I don ‘t know what he did with it.”
“You’re lying to us” and “you got a portion of that and we know it,” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. “We know you got some,” and, uh, and ·”we know you did”‘ and they can ‘t prove it so they got pissed and they got mad and whatever and I never did get anything out of the million and they think I did so they·re pissed and they think l”m lying on that so they’re. they”re threatening me with indictment, REDACTION
WOODS: It’s weak.
WOODS: So W.H. says “Jon, you better fucking start telling everybody
And they said, “Well, we want to talk to you about the college right now.’·
And I was like, “Well, what do you want to know?”
And they said, “Well, we think you got a cut out of that and we’ve got a paper trail from Randell to you and we think there’s others involved” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And I was like, “Dude, look. I … I don ‘ t know what you ‘re talking about, but any money that Randell has ever given me is a loan.”
And they go, “That’s bullshit.”
And I said, “No.” I was like, “We actually have a loan agreement where, you know, I’m paying him monthly on the money he ‘s loaned me.
And W.H. goes “Come here!” .. And he gets me out in the hallway and he goes, he goes, .. Quit fucking lying! Get your ass back in there, tell them the fucking truth. You embezzled money, you stole money from the State through Ecclesia, through Oren, through Randell. You·re doing at least 18 months. Get your ass back in there. I’m trying to reduce it down, say even, you know, 6 months, and if you don ‘t cooperate they’ re gonna, they’re gonna, do you, do you, in for 10 years;· and blah blah, blah, blah, blah.
So I get back in there and they’ re like, “Who the fuck?'” And they’ re like, “who else has gotten money? Who else has gotten money?”‘
And I was like, “Man, I don ‘ t know, I don ‘t know:’
And they ‘re like, “Well, we think you know and we think you’re, we think there’s people, and we think there’s other ; · and, um, I’m, they never once brought your name up. Never. Not once. Ever. Ever.
And, um, and I was just like, you know, just sitting there and they’re just grilling me, grilling me, grilling me, grilling me and that was our first meeting. Then we had another meeting and they’re grilling me.
And they ‘re like, you know, “What else have you seen down there?”
And now I know that they don ‘t have anything on me because they’re asking me what else, what other rumors have I heard and that kind of stuff.
NEAL: On other legislators?
WOODS: Yeah. Like, “have you heard anything at all about anything else down here while you·ve been here, and tell us everything you know”
And I’m like, “Man, you know, I’ve heard this, this, and this, but I . . . “
And they”re like, ”Were you in the room?”
I was like, “No.”
“Do you know when?
I was like, “No” I was like, I .
NEAL: It’s hard to prove any of that shit.
WOODS:I was like, “guys….”
NEAL: It’s all rumor.
WOODS:Yeah. I was like, “Guys, I have no ….”
NEAL: It’s all rumor.
WOODS: “I have no idea. I have no fucking clue.”
And W.H. started getting really, really mad at me. He’s like, “You know, and you’ re not telling them.”
And he’s like dogging on me.
And you sign this truth for a day thing whereas nothing you say can be used against you. It’s called a proffer agreement. So I signed one of those, and so nothing I say can be used against me.
And they’re like … I mean, they were really grilling hard. I mean, they’re like, “Did you give any money to anybody at all?”‘
And I was like, “No.”
“You swear you never gave any to anybody at all?'”
And W.H. is like, “Why are you lying?” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
NEAL: How does W.H. say you’re lying whenever you’re sitting in there?
WOODS: I know
NEAL: Did you tell W.H. about giving money to people?
WOODS: And … when I met with W.H., I said … I said, “W.H., there are some other people that did get … that did get some, and they can’t prove it, and I”d rather just take the fall”
And he goes, “No, you .. you need to tell them who it all was and how and where and when,” and all that sort of stuff.
And I was like, “I don’t .. . why would I do that? Why would I get them in trouble?'”
And he goes, “Because I’m trying to lessen your time.” And nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. And he was getting really mad and really pissed at me.
And so we had this other meeting, and they kept grilling me on the college. And Oren and Randell are saying, “we’ve loaned Jon money, and Jon .. . Jon has loans with Randell, and it’s totally legal.”
And W.H. got real mad again.
Woods ultimately got a new lawyer, went to trial, was convicted on multiple counts and will be sentenced this week. His failure to acknowledge guilt will be a factor in the guidelines on which sentencing is imposed.