Former State Senator Jon Woods was sentenced to 18 years and 4 months for his convictions for wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering tied to a kickback scheme when he was a legislator. Judge Tim Brooks said that a “message” needed to be sent to the Arkansas General assembly and others that this conduct would not be tolerated. After accounting for enhancements, the sentencing guidelines recommended 27 – 33 years but Judge Tim Brooks lowered that stating the number was “out of whack” compared to other sentences in his court.
Wood’s defense attorneys argued in their brief for no prison time for Woods. Judge Brooks said that suggestion was “absurd” and sends a message to the community that if you are elected and steal you just get a slap on the wrist. In addition to the prison sentence Woods will have to pay $1.6 million in restitution and serve 3 years of supervised release after he leaves prison.
Judge Brooks Ruling and Statements
Judge Brooks condemned Woods at the end of the nearly 5-hour sentencing hearing. He said it was “a violation of the public trust and was particularly and uniquely offensive.” Brooks quoted the oath of office that Jon Woods took as a Senator then condemned him for breaching that oath. Brooks stated our “Republic was built on a very unique, three co-equal branches of government and on a statewide system where you are one of 35 representing three million people you violated the very fabric of that oath.”
Other notable quotes from Judge Brooks to Jon Woods:
- “You stole from the very people who you asked for their vote”
- “This was not an isolated incident; you became adept it”
- “I accept at face value you at some point had good reasons and did good, meaningful, and legitimate legislative works”
- “At some point you evolved mentally and thought I can get juice from the wheels that grind government.”
- Brooks compared Wood’s conduct to playing “legislature chess” to get around state supreme court rulings to keep the GIF money flowing.
- “Your top thought was how to get money in your pocket”
- “You even lied about the little things, like the bare bones form for financial disclosure”
- “You developed an attitude that you are above the law”
- “It is ironic that your top constituents were law enforcement at the same time you were stealing from them”
- Brooks claimed that Wood’s crimes “bastardized the process of state government”
- Brooks was extremely upset over the $400,000 Woods steered to Alternative Opportunities (now preferred family healthcare) for kickbacks. The money was later returned (after being caught) to the planning and development district. Brooks described Woods “immediate and reflexive” response was to find a way to “re-steal” the money. He said this gave great insight into the depravity of Woods’ heart.
- Brooks said that Woods did not respect the law because he used his charm to mislead law enforcement while at the same time stealing from them.
- Brooks said that Wood’s conduct showed his “mentality had evolved to a point of serious criminal thinking” and Brooks had concerns he would plot and scheme again and needed to impose a strong deterrent.
- Brooks said there was a message that needed to be sent to the community and to the Arkansas General Assembly that this conduct will not be tolerated and that Woods had the unfortunate distinction of being the lead of all the public corruption cases.
- Brooks considered Woods a “danger to the community”, not through physical violence, but as a condition of his release needed to monitor his financial dealings.
- Judge Brooks put a “great weight” on the fact that Woods was a first time offender
- Brooks said that public officials who steal are not deserving of a second chance to not steal again. “Not stealing is a basic part of the job”
- The court could not overlook the good parts to Jon Woods like him doing good things in the legislature, helping the “little guy” according to letters of support and other charitable work. Brooks considered this as a factor in his ruling.
- He said he admired him for being a good son to his father and helping with his care and that he would take that into consideration.
- Admonished Woods for his lack of remorse and lack of any recognition of wrongdoing even with a “mountain of evidence” against him.
U.S. Attorney Dak Kees Closing Argument
In his closing argument U.S. Attorney Dak Kees referred back to his first day of criminal law class in which his professor asked the class “what is the worst crime”. He said he had never really been able to answer that question but after the Jon Woods case he knows it is the crime of betrayal. Kees said that Woods “used charm and charisma to ask people for their trust, went to Little Rock, weaponized that trust, and turned it on those victims who had trusted him.” Kees argued that Woods’ only motivation for serving in the legislature was to get money. He mentioned others involved in the kickback scheme and speculated that Woods would have been able to find “other ways and people to have a victim to funnel money to himself” even if they were not involved.
Kees listed who the “victims” were of Jon Wood’s crimes as the defense seemed to imply there were no true victims in the case since no one was coming forward asking for the money back and that the money to Ecclesia College was used for its intended purposes. Kees said the victims included the people of Arkansas, our system of democracy, and other legislators who had been deceived and have had their reputations called into question. He also argued that if Woods had not been caught he would still be down in Little Rock perpetrating these schemes.
Kees also pointed to the fact that unlike some criminals who had no proper upbringing, Woods was brought up with a family and was at the “apex of his career” but only looking to make money. he also pointed to the fact that Woods worked hard to avoid getting caught. He argued this showed that Woods knew the consequences of his crimes, considered them, disregarded them, and is now asking for mercy.
Kees claimed Woods stole the most valuable thing in a democracy — the people’s trust. He discussed how elected officials have special status and that Judge Brooks would promote respect for the law with a serious sentence. Kees asked a rhetorical question of “when will society be ready for Jon Woods to come back?” answering “it is going to be a while.” Kees requested that Judge Brooks follow the guidelines for sentencing, which would have been up to 33 years in prison.
Defense Attorney Patrick Benca Arguments
Rather than a lengthy closing argument, Benca referred to the arguments made in his brief submitted to the court. Benca mentioned that Woods had done lots of good things for people outside of the convictions conduct. He stated that other clients he has had in similarly situated positions got a much less sentence than what the guidelines called for. Stumbling for words, Benca argued that a sentence within the guidelines recommendation (27 – 33 years) would be “sad” for his client.
Defendant Jon Woods declined to make a statement.
Jon Woods was allowed to have statements made from volunteers who discussed their relationships with Woods. Five individuals made statements in support of Woods.
Jason Fulton, a college friend and roomate of Woods, mentioned how Woods was always the designated driver because he did not drink. He told of a story of when Woods took Fulton to a state capitol basketball game where he was able to get autographs.
Keith Castleman, pastor of Baldwin Church of Christ, spoke about Woods attending his church the past 18 months. He said Woods was there almost every Sunday and that he “truly seems kind and compassionate” towards others.
Dean Bitner, president of the Springdale firefighters, met Woods in 2006 when Woods was running for office. He spoke about how Woods worked on issues to help firefighters. He said that Woods was “labeled as a union sympathizer by members of his own party” and helped with pensions.
Denny Upton, a retired police officer from Springdale spoke about Woods helping them on police legislation.
Byron Warren has known Woods for over 20 years and stated that Woods had helped him when Warren ran for State Representative. He commented he was speaking up for Woos because he is “able to give back to Jon who never gets anything in return.”
Woods must report to prison by September 26 at 1:00 p.m. He requested placement at the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. Former State Senator Jake Files is currently serving a 18-month sentence there for wire fraud charges related to GIF money.
Press Conference with US Attorney Dak Kees after Jon Woods sentencing: