Red State GOP Senator Convicted in Christian College Bribery Scheme

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GOP Corruption begins at the Local level

In a release from the Department of Justice, two former political officials from Arkansas have been found guilty of committing a bribery scheme regarding the directing of state funds for kickbacks.

The two individuals involved are former Republican State Senator Jonathan E. Woods and Arkansas consultant Randell G. Shelton Jr. During the first two years of his tenure in office, from 2013-2017, Woods moved $600,000 of government money from the Arkansas General Improvements Funds to two non-profit entities, one of which was the Christian work university Ecclesia College. In exchange, Woods received bribes from officials involved with both entities.

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One of these officials was Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III who, no doubt realizing that sending personal money to an elected official was risky, gave a piece of the General Improvements Funds to Shelton Jr.’s company in exchange for transferring the kickbacks directly to Woods.

Woods was not alone in his actions, having brought on other legislators to help, most notably former state representative Micah Neal. Both Neal and Paris have since plead guilty, with Neal turning over tapes he’d made as evidence to the FBI.

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Interestingly enough, the agent who received the tapes, Robert Cessario, deleted some of Neal’s evidence from his computer during a memory wipe. While Cessario claims it was an accident, a separate FBI investigation has been launched into the matter.

Cessario’s actions led Woods’s defense to attempt to dismiss the case, but the motion was denied by Federal Judge Timothy Brooks, who commented the following:

“There may be readers of this opinion who feel that this court, by declining to dismiss the indictment, is somehow allowing Agent Cessario — and by extension, the government — to ‘get away with’ bad conduct. The court would emphasize here that it does not condone Agent Cessario’s actions; it finds them reprehensible. But the public does not forfeit it’s interest in seeing crime prosecuted simply because one government agent happened to engage in bad conduct along the way.”

Republicans and the so-called Christian Right have frequently hijacked the Christian religion to promote “family values” among their constituents: a show of morality to cover their bigotry and corrupt actions. In general, they promote a version of “Christianity” which does not live within the pages of the Christian bible. One which emphasizes bigotry, violence, and greed in ways that are antithetical to the actual teachings of Jesus Christ. While Woods and his fellow conspirators were caught, it does not change the fact that these men, particularly Oren Paris, were hypocrites who championed Christian values while betraying those very testaments. And they are far from alone.

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Suman Sridhar