Correction: An earlier version of this article said Ecclesia was unaccredited. I have corrected it to reflect that the school is accredited by the Association of Biblical Higher Education but is not regionally accredited which is the gold standard for academic accreditation.
Watch out, shoes are dropping in the Ecclesia College kickback case.
Arkansas Online today reports that Oren Paris III resigned from his post as president of Ecclesia College and entered a last minute conditional
guilty plea in the kickback and bribery case which came to light early last year. Along with State Senator Jon Woods, and consultant Randall Shelton, Paris was indicted in federal court on March 1, 2017 for allegedly participating in a scheme to funnel state improvement funds through Ecclesia to Woods and Shelton. State representative Micah Neal was also in on the alleged plot and earlier entered a guilty plea.
Ecclesia College is an Christian school in Springdale AR which has the support of Christian nationalists David Barton and Eric Metaxas. The school is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education but is not accredited by the Higher Learning Commission which covers schools in Arkansas.
Initially, Paris was defiant and claimed he would be vindicated. Although Paris entered a guilty plea, the move may have been a legal maneuver, according to media reports. His trial was slated to begin Monday and Paris may be hoping to revisit his status if an appeals court overturns Judge Timothy Brooks decision not to dismiss the case.
In the plea agreement, Paris admits that he “knowingly obtained GIF [General Improvement Funds] money for the College under materially false and fraudulent pretenses.” Paris then caused funds to be paid to Randall Shelton knowing that some of those funds would end up back with Senator Jon Woods in a kickback. By entering a conditional guilty plea to one count, Paris has thrown Shelton and Woods under the bus.
Incredibly, Ecclesia College is standing by Paris, writing on the school Facebook page:
As you know, Dr. Oren Paris and two others were indicted a little over a year ago by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. For Oren, his immediate family, and the extended family at Ecclesia College, this has been a period of spiritual trial, eased by an ever increasing gratitude for God’s constant presence and His great faithfulness.
While we continue to believe firmly that Dr. Paris has been honest and forthright in his statements from the beginning of this case, he and his legal team are now convinced that the best path forward is to accept a conditional plea agreement negotiated with the government. We stand with him in his decision.
Information recently brought to Dr. Paris’s attention has shed new light on facts he previously knew but had interpreted differently. This enables him to truthfully make the statement required by the government. The terms of the conditional plea agreement clear the path for an appeal to be filed with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to address some the issues raised during the course of this case that have caused us all great concern regarding the appearance of fairness of the judicial system. In the meantime, while Dr. Paris will be stepping down as president of Ecclesia College until his name is cleared in order to avoid further unnecessary distraction from the College’s mission, he will continue to serve Ecclesia.
We know and trust that God is moving on our behalf toward His ultimate answer to our ongoing prayer for His deliverance. Please continue to pray with us that the upcoming appeal will lead to a fully just outcome in the end.We are completely confident that God has every individual and this institution in His all-capable hands. To the faculty, staff, and students operations will continue as normal. We look forward to seeing Him in and through this situation for the overall good and promising future of Ecclesia College.
For His glory,
EC Board of Governance
It is very difficult to square the plea agreement with this statement from the Board of Governance. If his statement to the government is true, then he “knowingly obtained GIF money for the College under materially false and fraudulent pretenses” and “knowing and intentionally engaged in a scheme to defraud the citizens of Arkansas of the honest services of Arkansas state Senator Woods.” (See image below from page 4 of the plea agreement)
This case is not over. Senator Woods and Randall Shelton still must go to trial and no doubt they will have something to say about Paris’ involvement.