News yesterday involving legislators with connections to the Ecclesia College scandal reminded me: Whatever happened to the request for a lawsuit against Ecclesia to recover state money it shouldn’t have received and from which kickbacks were paid to a couple of former legislators. Answer almost four months later: Nothing public so far.
I was reminded of Ecclesia yesterday by two items:
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* A $1,700 income tax lien filed by the state Finance and Administration Department against Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger, who was among the Republican legislators who sent state surplus money to the church in the unconstitutional GIF handout program and who also received payments from Ecclesia for land transaction work financed with the college’s state money. (He has been accused of no crimes.)
* Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, another supplier of state money to the tiny college incorporated as a church, got a $95,000-a-year job as a budget manager at DFA. He needed a new public paycheck
DFA Director Larry Walther asked Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in a letter Sept. 7 to sue to reclaim some $600,000 in grants to Ecclesia. He said the money seemed to have been obtained as a byproduct of criminal activity. A series of convictions in federal court substantiated that — of former Republican Sen. Jon Woods, former Republican Rep. Micah Neal, former College President Oren Paris III and intermediary Randell Shelton, a pal of Woods and Paris.
I asked DFA about progress in the requested lawsuit Friday. Scott Hardin, DFA spokesman responded:
A lawsuit has not yet been filed by the Attorney General on behalf of the State of Arkansas against Ecclesia College concerning the general improvement funds the college received. We have provided to the Attorney General all the documentation DFA had in its records pertaining to DFA’s request to file a lawsuit on behalf of the State of Arkansas. Would you like a copy of this documentation? We must refer any questions on the status of the potential case to the AG’s Office.
I asked the attorney general’s office. Spokeswoman Amanda Priest responded:
The Attorney General is committed to taking appropriate action to recover money owed to Arkansas taxpayers.
The answer seemed non-specific to me. So I followed up: But does that mean she plans to sue Ecclesia?
I’ll have to refer you back to the previous statement. Thanks!
Maybe Charlie Collins can be deputized in his new state job to get something cooking against a beneficiary of his largesse as a legislator.
Ballinger’s law partner, Travis Story, represents Ecclesia. He has contended the statute of limitations has run on reclaiming money from his client. Another legal expert, former Chief Justice Howard Brill, says the state still has a claim of unjust enrichment and isn’t subject to the statute of limitation. A definitive legal answer requires a lawsuit.
Maybe the request for a lawsuit was made to clean up the skirts of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was getting associated with the Ecclesia scandal, and its many Republican connections in Northwest Arkansas, during his successful race for re-election. Now that that’s over …..