Ecclesia College Benefited from Arkansas Bribery Scheme

UPDATE: Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III tonight issued a statement denying any wrongdoing in this case.

A news report out of Arkansas sounds ominous for some of the blog’s favorite people.

Ecclesia College received $200,000 from an Arkansas government agency to build a building on campus. According to the report a sitting State Representative took a $18,000 bribe in order to funnel the money to Ecclesia.

This isn’t the first time Ecclesia benefited from public funds. The school received $592,000 via the same discretionary fund in calendar years 2013 and 2014. Only the Arkansas Energy Office received a higher amount of funding over the same period.  Despite lack of regional accreditation, Arkansas tax dollars have been spent lavishly on Ecclesia.

David Barton and Eric Metaxas are on the Board of Regents at Ecclesia, although there is nothing in the report suggesting they knew anything about the matter.

According to the plea agreement, the president (not named in the agreement) of “Entity B” was aware of the arrangement. The president of “Entity B” (Ecclesia College) is Oren Paris III.

According to a contact at Ecclesia president Paris is meeting with the board about the plea agreement this afternoon.

Here’s part of the agreement involving the only named participant, Representative Micah Neal:

Honest Services Fraud Concerning Entity B

v. In or around 2014, Senator A told NEAL that if NEAL, as an Arkansas Representative, authorized and directed GIF money to Entity B, then Person B would pay NEAL a portion of the money in exchange for EAL’s official action.

w. NEAL and Senator A agreed to authorize and direct a total of $200,000 of GIF money to Entity B in exchange for kickbacks from Person B. Of the $200,000, NEAL agreed to direct $50,000 of the GIF money to Entity B, and Senator A agreed to direct $150,000 of the GIF money to Entity B.

x. On or about December 18, 2014, the NWAEDD issued a check in the amount of$200,000, and drawn on the NWAEDD’s Arvest Bank account ending in 8611, to Entity B. The check constituted GIF monies that had been appropriated by NEAL and Senator A, and was awarded pursuant to a GIF grant application signed by Person B that had been emailed, via interstate wire communications, to the NWAEDD from Entity B in Springdale, Arkansas, on or about December 5, 2014. The application requested a $200,000 GIF grant and listed NEAL and Senator A as sponsors.

y. On or about December 19, 2014, the $200,000 check from the NWAEDD to Entity B was deposited into Entity B’s Centennial Bank account ending in 0681. Arvest Bank subsequently settled the check totaling $200,000 with Centennial Bank via an interstate wire communication.

z. The spreadsheets maintained by the NWAEDD for NEAL and Senator A showed a deduction in December 2014 of $50,000 and $150,000, respectively, for the GIF grant awarded to Entity B.

aa. A check dated January 5, 2015 and drawn on Entity B’s Centennial Bank account ending in 0681 in the amount of $65,000 was issued to Person C’s company and deposited that same day into Person C’s company’s Arvest Bank account ending in 7761. The check was issued at the direction of Person B. Over the following three days, Person C made three cash withdrawals per day totaling $53,700 from his company’s Arvest Bank account ending in 7761.

bb. Between approximately December 19, 2014 and approximately January 30, 2015, and following Entity B’s receipt of NEAL’s and Senator A’s GIF money in the amount of $200,000, Senator A contacted NEAL and told him that Person C would be bringing $18,000 in cash to NEAL in exchange for NEAL having authorized and directed the appropriation of the GIF money to Entity B.

cc. Between approximately December 19, 2014 and approximately January 30, 2015, and following NEAL’s communication with Senator A, Person C met with NEAL and, on behalf of Person B, paid NEAL $18,000 in cash.

dd. NEAL agrees and stipulates that he conspired with Senator A and others in the Western District of Arkansas and elsewhere to deprive the citizens of the State of Arkansas of his honest services as an Arkansas state legislator by taking official actions and using his official position to appropriate and direct funds to Entity A and Entity B in exchange for kickback payments, and that the conspiracy and scheme to defraud the citizens of the State of Arkansas of his honest services involved the use of interstate wire communications and mailings that were sent and/or received in the Western District of Arkansas.

Stay tuned…