GIF system a mess, administrator testifies in corruption trial | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 16, 2018

GIF system a mess, administrator testifies in corruption trial

Posted By on Mon, Apr 16, 2018 at 1:18 PM

Record keeping was almost nonexistent at the Northwest Arkansas Development District, the agency responsible for disbursing the legislative General Improvement Funds at the heart of a public corruption trial in Fayetteville, the agency's deputy director testified today. Doug Thompson of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette provided the report

Jeremy Ragland, deputy director of the Northwest Arkansas Development District, testified today in the federal corruption trial in which former state Sen. Jon Woods and consultant Randell Shelton are defendants. This is week two of the trial. The government alleges that Woods and former state Rep. Micah Neal, who has already pleaded guilty, directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the tiny Ecclesia College in Springdale in return for kickbacks. The Bible college's president, Oren Paris III, recently resigned and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. Shelton is accused of playing a middleman role in the kickback scheme.

Ragland testified today that before he took over the grant program in November 2014, the agency never checked to make sure grants were spent as they were intended. Record keeping was so bad, Ragland said, that Woods and Neal weren't notified that $400,000 they had directed to Preferred Family Healthcare was returned to the agency. PFH is a Missouri health care provider that operates mental and behavioral health clinics throughout Arkansas. Federal prosecutors have said that Wood and Neal participated in a kickback scheme with PFH as well.

Ragland also testified that the Northwest Arkansas Development District did what legislators wanted. Despite the agency having a board that approved grants, legislators who provided the funding from GIF always got a chance to reject or approve grants. 

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