Last night on Facebook, Ecclesia College’s president Oren Paris III denied any wrongdoing in the emerging Arkansas bribery scandal. Yesterday, state representative Micah Neal admitted conspiring with an as yet unnamed state senator to secure bribes from two non-profits, one being Ecclesia College, in exchange for funds administered by the state’s General Improvement Fund.
Paris “unequivocally” stated “that neither I nor Ecclesia College have been party to illegal activity.” Paris’ denial leaves many unanswered questions which were raised by Micah Neal’s plea agreement (Neal pleaded guilty rather than face trial).
According to the agreement, Neal received money from Ecclesia at Paris’ direction via an unnamed consultant (“Person C”). On pages 7-8 of the plea agreement, the arrangement is described. Entity B is Ecclesia College and Person B is Oren Paris III. Person C’s identity has not been confirmed. It has been publicly speculated in Arkansas media reports that Senator A is Jon Woods (R-Springdale).
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.
According to the plea agreement, Person C paid Rep. Neal $18,000 “on behalf of Person B [Paris].”
Paris’ denial doesn’t address the reasons for the payment of $65,000 to Person C. To address this aspect of the plea agreement, Paris should identify the consultant and the nature of the payment to that person. Did Paris know that $18,000 would go to Neal? Did Neal believe Paris was involved in the scheme? Paris’ statement does not address these and other questions.
Note to my readers who write for Christian publications. Answers to these questions and eventual accountability may not come unless you all get involved. All people in this story (Neal, Woods, Paris III, Ecclesia College) claim to be evangelical Christians. There are substantial separation of church and state issues in this story as well since a non-regionally accredited Bible college* with a celebrity Board of Regents received substantial taxpayer dollars.
*Ecclesia College is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education, a group which is recognized as an approved accrediting body by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Ecclesia students are eligible for Pell grants and other sources of federal aid. However, the school is not regionally accredited which would make transferring credits to non-faith based schools much easier.