FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — An FBI laptop computer that had audio recordings in a case involving former Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, was completely erased multiple times, court documents state.
Woods and two other men have been accused of funneling state money into an account at Ecclesia College in Springdale.
In turn, Woods and Oren Paris, III would receive kickbacks from the school. Paris, also indicted, is Ecclesia College’s President.
The third man accused is Randell Shelton, Jr. He’s listed in the indictment as part of a consulting company that was used to pay and conceal the kickbacks.
The case has had several twists and turns with hearings being scheduled and even canceled.
Now court documents show an FBI laptop with 79 recordings, covering 52 hours of conversation, that were made by former Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, was wiped three times.
On November 8, defense attorneys requested the entire case be dismissed. On November 29, the defense team learned about the the audio recordings. When they asked for them, however, prosecutors couldn’t hand them over because they no longer had them, court records state.
On December 15, the defense team got a letter from prosecutors about the audio recordings.
The letter said when prosecutors tried to get the laptop with those recordings, the agent who handled the computer said it was completely erased three times.
It was wiped once after the agent’s children played games and downloaded a virus onto the machine, once when the hard drive became full and once because the agent had stored personal medical information on the computer, the letter states.
The FBI was unable to recover any of the data, authorities said. After prosecutors learned of the device being wiped, they said the agent who had the laptop would be investigated.
On December 18, a defense attorney filed more paperwork asking for the case to be dismissed. Documents filed on behalf of Paris called the laptop being erased, “bad faith misconduct on the part of the government.”
The documents go on to say, “The misconduct all brings into question all of the evidence thus far produced, and the existence of any evidence that has not been produced and may have existed on [the agent’s] laptop. . . All of which shall remain forever buried due to the intentional destruction of said evidence.”
They conclude by saying Paris has showed bad faith on part of the government, resulting in prejudice and further requesting the case be dismissed.
A defense attorney for Randall Shelton said a judge isn’t likely to rule on the dismissal request before 2018. In the meantime, a jury trial has been scheduled for Woods on April 9, 2018, at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville.
[Editorial note: Garrett Fergeson and Curt Lanning both contributed to this article.]