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Public Officials And Corruption.

It was the first big news of 2017: Just after noon on Wednesday, Jan. 4, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Arkansas emailed a press release with this ominous all-caps subject line: ARKANSAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE PLEADS GUILTY TO BRIBE CONSPIRACY.

The representative--his second term would end the following week--was Micah S. Neal, R-Springdale, who admitted that he had received approximately $38,000 in kickbacks in 2013-15 from two nonprofits to which he and a state senator had directed money from the state's controversial General Improvement Fund.

Nearly a year has passed, but most of what we know now was public knowledge within a few days: The senator was Jon Woods, another Springdale Republican who didn't seek re-election as the feds moved in on him in 2016, and the nonprofits that paid the kickbacks were tiny Ecclesia College in Springdale and Alternative Opportunities Inc. of Springfield, Missouri, which did business as Decision Point at the time.

Woods was indicted in March along with Oren Paris III, the president of Ecclesia College, and their mutual friend, Randell Shelton Jr. of Alma. The three were scheduled for trial this month, but it was postponed at the last minute when a trove of recordings that Neal made of Woods was discovered. No new trial date has been set, and Neal is not expected to be sentenced until he has finished assisting federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the federal investigation of misuse of GIF money has continued, and multiple legislators have been targets. One of them is state Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith. Files has acknowledged that he submitted two fake bids plus the winning low bid on behalf of an unlicensed subcontractor--actually his employee--and then directed GIF money to the city of Fort Smith to pay her. And the employee has sworn in an affidavit that she then gave the $27,000 to Files.

A long-running case of official corruption in the U.S. Department of Agriculture child feeding program administered by the state Department of Human Services has resulted in 16 convictions and uncovered more than $13 million in fraud.

And in November, former Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio reached the end of the line. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider his attempt to take back his plea of guilty to accepting a bribe.

Maggio, who had pleaded guilty in 2015 and been sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in federal prison, had reported to prison in July after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to let him withdraw the plea.

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Title Annotation:TOP STORIES OF 2017
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 18, 2017
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