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United States v. Woods

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

November 29, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
JONATHAN E. WOODS; OREN PARIS III; and RANDELL G. SHELTON, JR. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently before the Court are:

• Defendant Oren Paris Ill's Motion in Limine to Exclude any Reference to the "Shingle Resource Recycling, LLC" (hereinafter, "SRR") (Doc. 164), and the Government's Response (Doc. 184) and Proffer of Evidence in Support (Doc. 185);
• Dr. Paris's Motion in Limine Regarding Privileged Communications with George Hiller (Doc. 165), and the Government's Response (Doc. 186);
• Dr. Paris's Motion in Limine to Exclude any Assertion that Electronic Transmissions Bear an Interstate Nexus, and to Exclude the Electronic Transmissions Themselves for Purposes of Proving Violation of 18 U.S.C § 1343 (Doc. 166), the Government's Response (Doc. 190), and Dr. Paris's Reply (Doc. 208);[1]
• Dr. Paris's Motion to Strike Surplusage (Doc. 167), and the Government's Response (Doc. 199);
• A filing by Defendant Randell G. Shelton indicating that he joins the aforementioned four Motions by Dr. Paris, see Doc. 173; and
• Dr. Paris's Motion to Dismiss the Second Superseding Indictment or, in the Alternative, Renewal of His Motion to Sever (Doc. 163), and the Government's Response (Doc. 201).

         For the reasons given below, all five of these Motions by Dr. Paris are DENIED.

         I. MOTION IN LIMINE REGARDING SRR (Doc. 164)

         Dr. Paris asks the Court to "exclude any evidence related to" SRR, which he describes as "a business that was operated for a time on ... a piece of real property purchased by Ecclesia College during the same period of time that Ecclesia received GIF monies from the NWAEDD." (Doc. 164, p. 1). Dr. Paris then asserts in conclusory fashion that "SRR bears no actual relevance with respect to the charges alleged herein, " that "the factual timeline by which Ecclesia College interacted with SRR is complicated, difficult to follow, and contains aspects that the government could attempt to manipulate into what might appear to the layman as support for the charges alleged." Id. Dr. Paris does not offer any description of what these "aspects" of the relationship are, but instead simply states that "[a] complete and unadulterated rendition of the facts relating to SRR"-which are not provided in his Motion-"reveals that those facts bear no criminal element or relevance with respect to the charges alleged, and having to prepare to present a complete rendition of the facts relating to SRR (or to supplement an incomplete rendition of the same by the government) would be a time-consuming and needlessly prejudicial burden for Dr. Paris." See Id. He then asks the Court to "exclude any reference to SRR whatsoever" as irrelevant under Fed.R.Evid. 401, and as unfairly prejudicial under Fed.R.Evid. 403. Id. at 2. He further asks the Court to exclude any such references under Fed.R.Evid. 404 as inadmissible propensity evidence "to the extent the government avers that there is some nefarious element associated with Dr. Paris (sic) involvement with SRR." Id.

         The Court cannot determine particular facts' relevance, potential for unfair prejudice, or potential for use as propensity evidence without being informed as to what the facts in question even are. Yet that is exactly what Dr. Paris is asking the Court to do. This factual vacuum is sufficient grounds for denying the Motion before ever even reaching the Government's Response.

         However, the Government's Response provides additional grounds for denying the Motion, because the Government's Response is accompanied by a Proffer of the evidence regarding SRR that it would seek to admit at trial. See Doc. 185. The Court will avoid going into detail here about the facts in the Proffer, because the Proffer was filed under seal pursuant to the Protective Order (Doc. 14) in this case. But the Court will generally observe that the Proffer contains evidence that at one point all three Defendants in this case simultaneously held substantial shares of ownership in SRR, which was a for-profit business, and that shortly after Mr. Woods left his membership with SRR, he made an appropriation of public Arkansas funds to benefit SRR, while the other two Defendants were still members of SRR and were privately corresponding with Woods about his efforts to make the appropriation. See Doc. 185. These events all occurred during the time frame when the Second Superseding Indictment alleges that these three Defendants conspired to commit Honest Services Fraud.

         Thus, these SRR-related events are relevant to the charges in this case, in that they provide context for the business and political relationships between these Defendants during the time of their alleged conspiracy, and evidence of these Defendants' knowledge of each others' business activities and efforts to obtain grant appropriations through the political process. It is "evidence tending to make the existence of a conspiracy more probable." See United States v. Maxwell,643 F.3d 1096, 1101 (8th Cir. 2011). And again, the Court presently does not have any basis to conclude that this relevance is substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice, since Dr. Paris has not provided any elaboration on his bare ...


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