Earlier today, I wrote about Micah Neal, an Arkansas state legislator who admitted taking kickbacks from two unnamed non-profits in Arkansas in exchange for donations from Arkansas’ General Improvement Fund. Neal made a plea agreement and is awaiting his fate.
According to the plea agreement, money was given to Neal in exchange for $200,000 in government grants. From the plea agreement:
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.
Entity B is almost certainly Ecclesia College and Person B is Oren Paris III, president of the College.
This afternoon, I called Ecclesia for comment and was told that the College board was meeting about the plea agreement. Tonight, on the Ecclesia Facebook page, Oren Paris III issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.
To Students, Faculty, Staff and Friends,
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.
In His service,
Dr. Oren Paris III
President, Ecclesia College
This statement sets up what appears to be a conflict between Neal and Paris. The plea agreement is very specific about bank withdrawals and payments directed by Person B (i.e., Paris). If Senator A (as described in the plea agreement) is indicted, then we may get more information about Person B and those bank activities.