SPRINGDALE (KFSM) — The president of Ecclesia College in Springdale released a statement Thursday (Jan. 5) in response to reports of the school’s possible involvement in a bribery scheme that involved former state Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, and a former state senator.
College President Dr. Oren Paris III posted the following statement on the school’s Facebook page:
As a result of what was widely reported yesterday, I am aware of statements made in a plea agreement entered into by Representative Micah Neal. Suggested by those news reports was that Ecclesia College was somehow involved in criminal activity with Mr. Neal. While it is certainly true that Ecclesia College, like NWACC and the University of Arkansas, has received General Improvement Funds as reported, I can assure you that neither I nor anyone associated with Ecclesia College has ever participated or engaged in any activity to provide money to Mr. Neal or any other legislator in exchange for the receipt of those funds.
The search for funding sources is an important part of the life of any non-profit organization. As a Christian work-college, we are not eligible for the same level of government funding as public colleges and institutions, and have from time to time engaged consultants in those efforts. While Ecclesia College did receive GIF funds from the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development Corporation, every dollar of those funds have been used for the purposes for which they were requested. Every effort was made to comply with every aspect of the law as we understood it.
After reading the statements contained in Mr. Neal’s plea agreement, I can unequivocally state that neither I nor Ecclesia College have been party to illegal activity. We have never been a party to any agreements to funnel money to any state legislator.
At the end of the day, I am secure in the knowledge that there has been no wrongdoing either on my part or the school’s part, and any rumors, innuendo, or any future news reports that say otherwise are simply untruthful.
Multiple elected official sources confirmed to 5NEWS that the nonprofit listed as “Entity B” in Neal’s plea agreement refers to Ecclesia College. Court documents list Entity B as a nonprofit corporation that runs a college in Springdale.
Elected officials sources also confirmed the senator involved in the scheme with Neal is Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who is known to be a friend of Paris.
Neal admitted Wednesday (Jan. 4) to taking $38,000 in bribes from two nonprofits based in Fayetteville and Springdale in exchange from funneling $600,000 in taxpayer money from the state’s General Improvement Fund into the organizations. Entity B asked Neal and the senator for $200,000 in exchange for kickbacks, according to court documents.
Federal investigators have no released the identities of the senator and three other people referenced in the court documents. They also have not identified the two nonprofits that are involved.