Two months after denying allegations that he bribed a government official to get state grants, Oren Paris III, president of Ecclesia College, a small Christian school in Springdale, Arkansas, has been indicted along with two others on 10 counts each of mail and wire fraud.
As he did in January after Ecclesia College was implicated when Micah Neal, a Republican state representative from Springdale, Arkansas, pled guilty to taking bribes in exchange for awarding state grants to two nonprofit organizations, Paris is maintaining his innocence and Ecclesia's board is standing by him.
"While the allegations made against Oren are to be taken seriously, we are confident once all the facts and the truth are made known, all will come to understand as we on the Board of Governance believe, that Oren has acted at all times with absolute integrity and always in the best interests of Ecclesia College," the school's board of governance said in a statement posted to Facebook.
"Praying for Oren Paris and the Ecclesia Family. They are some of the most honorable people I know, so expecting great things in the end!" wrote Metaxas.
In her message of support, Twila Paris focused on her brother's "record of exemplary character."
"I am so blessed to have Oren as my brother and so grateful for his faithful service in God's Kingdom. Those who know him well know that he is a man of deep integrity with a long established record of exemplary character. It is very clear that his highest aim is always to please God," she wrote.
"My family and I are humbled and strengthened by the many people of good will who are believing the best and standing with us in prayer during this season we could never have imagined," she added.
Neal pleaded guilty in January to conspiring with an Arkansas state senator to appropriate government money to two non-profit entities — a college in Springdale and a corporation that manufactures jobs for disabled veterans, disadvantaged youth and those recovering from substance abuse. Between 2013 and 2015, they authorized and directed the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District to award a total of $600,000 in General Improvement Funds to those entities — $200,000 of which went to the college. In return, Neal received approximately $38,000 in bribes from officials at those entities.
According to the Democrat Gazette, records from the NWAEDD show that Neal specifically requested a $50,000 grant be given to a private college and the only grant he directed for that amount to a college was for Ecclesia. His grant was awarded in 2014 just after Woods directed a $150,000 grant to the same college.
Also, according to the Gazette, nine Northwest Arkansas legislators requested $592,500 for the school. Woods directed the most at more than $350,000.
In total, Arkansas legislators gave nearly $700,000 of taxpayers' money to help Ecclesia College buy almost 50 acres although it already owned more than 200 acres, the Gazette reported. The college also reportedly used state improvement fund grants to help buy two proprieties in 2013, for well over their county-appraised value.
Ecclesia said in its grant applications it needed the land for student housing to accommodate rapid growth in its fall 2013 and fall 2014 enrollments, but the Springdale building department shows no new buildings or structural renovation have occurred on the properties, the Gazette reported.