Lisa Hammersly of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
SPONSORS: Legislators Neal, Woods, Hester and Della Rosa all signed off at times on grants for an organization promising the economic benefits of "ozone therapy." Results: None on file.
delved in detail today into one of the numerous abuses of the use of legislatively-controlled spending of state surplus — the so-called General Improvement Fund.
Credit where due: Blogger Russ Racop
outlined this — and we reported on it — back in January.
He pointed out then, as Hammersly
did again today, that former legislators Jon Woods and Micah Neal
(both now under indictment for a separate misuse of state money) and Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Jana Della Rosa (
we know nothing! they said) authorized $40,000 funneled through a Northwest Arkansas rubberstamp machine known as an economic development agency for Saline County insurance agent Charles Snider's Arkansas Health and Economic Research Inc. I
t was a brand new little corporation that, as we noted then, had some help in incorporation from Little Rock lawyer David Couch
, a friend of Woods. He, too says he just did a bit of legal paperwork for a friend (Woods) and had no idea what it was about.
We reported back in January on the dubious nature of the enterprise and a lack of records demonstrating how the money was spent. We quoted, too, from Snider's application, which should have drawn immediate skepticism from anyone who read the thing:
... a repository for knowledge and understanding of health research equipment and alternative health practices. As a result of identifying and researching these types of alternative modalities, such as the use of minerals and the use of applied Ozone Therapy to prevent or treat certain health ailments, we will provide economic development in Arkansas via connecting Arkansas businesses with established distribution channels, manufacturing opportunities, and we will provide educational support for the Arkansas Medical Community in the use of these modalities."
Racop noted the involvement of Randall Shelton
, also under indictment related to alleged kickbacks from GIF money funneled to Ecclesia College
in Springdale, a beneficiary to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars from many legislative directives.
Ozone therapy at least is now getting some statewide attention, but it's a mere speck in millions misspent. As I wrote back in January when discussing the Charles Snider grants:
The pork barreling is so sprawling it probably won't get the review it needs, given the millions distributed across the state by dozens of legislators (sometimes legitimately). Legislators wouldn't appreciate a searching look at exactly how the money they directed to local sources was spent.
The surplus money scam was, at least, ended in the 2017 legislature. But history tells us eternal vigilance is necessary. The scam resumed in new
form not long after a successful lawsuit by former legislator Mike Wilson
against an earlier pork barreling scheme. Judge Chris Piazza
has turned back a lawsuit by Wilson on this new form of graft. But that decision is on appeal. In the face of the transparent abuse of GIF money — legislatively directed local spending against the dictates of the constitution — you'd hope the Arkansas Supreme Court would,
for once, do right.
The D-G probably should have given a touch of credit this morning to Racop's groundbreaking work. Perhaps next they'll take a look at the holiday dinners for the poor that also carved off tens of thousands of state surplus money. Anybody ever turn
in any turkey receipts?