The Arkansas Democrat Gazette wrote last year that mainstream researchers called “ozone therapy” quackery, but yet a small nonprofit start-up Arkansas Health and Economic Research Inc. won thousands of dollars in state grant funds in 2013 — soon after seeking taxpayer dollars for the first time.
Five years later, federal prosecutors handed down sentences to a two former Arkansas state politicians, a political consultant, and a former college president in connection with what actually turned out to be a bribery scheme filled with political kickbacks and abuse of public funds.
On Thursday, former Arkansas State Rep. Micah Neal, 43, was sentenced to three years probation — the first year in home confinement — along with 300 hours of community service for his involvement in the scam to fleece taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department.
On Sept. 6, political consultant Randell G. Shelton Jr., 39, of Kemp, Texas, was sentenced to 72 months in prison, ordered to pay $660,698 in restitution and to forfeit another $664,000 after he was convicted of conspiracy and honest services wire and mail fraud.
Former Arkansas State Sen. Jonathan E. Woods, 41, of Springdale, Arkansas, was convicted of 15 counts in the scheme, including conspiracy, honest services wire and mail fraud, and money laundering, the Justice Department said in an earlier statement. He was slapped with a 220-month prison sentence Sept. 5 for organizing and leading the bribery scheme.
Oren Paris III, 50, of Springdale, Arkansas, and former president of Ecclesia College, was sentenced this week to serve 36 months in prison and to pay restitution in the amount of $621,500 for one count of honest services wire fraud.
“Neal admitted, and evidence presented at trial for Woods and Shelton revealed, that between sometime in 2013 and January 2015, Neal conspired with Woods to use their official positions to appropriate and direct government money, known as General Improvement Funds, to two non-profit entities in exchange for bribes,” prosecutors said in a statement.
“Specifically, Neal and Woods authorized and directed the [Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District], which was responsible for disbursing the GIF, to award a total of approximately $600,000 in GIF money to the two non-profit entities,” the statement continued.
Prosecutors said that Woods and Neal received kickbacks from the nonprofits and Ecclesia College after Woods gave $200,000 of General Improvement money and Neal another $200,000 to the college. The feds said that Paris paid a consulting company controlled by Shelton, where Woods and Neal received their kickbacks.
As for Arkansas Health and Economic Research Inc. and their vaunted ozone therapy? The Arkansas Democrat Gazette said it discovered that no one asked for an accounting of money it received, or for any proof that actual work was conducted on behalf of the organization.
“There’s been a great deal of effort to put structure and accountability into the system,” Joe Willis, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, told the newspaper last year. “Hindsight is at work here, but we’re doing all this with limited staff, without an audit staff, without a GIF department.”