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Ex-Treasurer Shoffner found guilty in bribery, extortion case

Posted: March 11, 2014 at 7:20 a.m.
Updated: March 11, 2014 at 6:52 p.m.

Martha Shoffner, former state Treasurer, leaves with her attorney Charles "Chuck" Banks after she was found guilty in her bribery and extortion trial at the Federal Courthouse in Little Rock Tuesday.

5:57 p.m. UPDATE:

Former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner has been found guilty on all 14 counts of bribery and extortion stemming from illegal payments she received for steering business toward a Russellville-based broker.

After nearly four hours of deliberation Tuesday afternoon, the jury of five men and seven women found Shoffner guilty of six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of bribery.

Shoffner declined to comment on the verdict as she left the courthouse.

Sentencing will occur after Shoffner's second trial, scheduled to begin March 31, for 10 counts of mail fraud.

Shoffner was accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and campaign contributions in exchange for steering state bond business to broker Steele Stephens.

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more details.

EARLIER:

The jury has begun its deliberations in the bribery and extortion trial of former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner.

The panel of five men and seven women retired to the jury room shortly before 2 p.m. after hearing closing arguments in the federal trial before U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes.

Defense attorney Charles "Chuck" Banks called into question Tuesday afternoon the credibility of a few of the prosecution's witnesses, namely Russellville broker Steele Stephens, who Banks said seemed to sympathize with Shoffner despite his decision to cooperate with federal authorities.

"If you follow the law ... then I'm not going to have to stand here and beg for a verdict," Banks said. "Because I believe that Martha will be fine, regardless."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti told the jury that while the defense had said that no money was lost by the state in the dealings between Shoffner and Stephens — a claim Mazzanti also said wasn't true — that wasn't the issue at hand. The issue, Mazzanti said, is the money Shoffner is accused of taking from Stephens.

"The court asks you to use common sense. This is not a coincidence," Mazzanti said, referencing the amount of business that was steered in Stephens' direction while he was connected to Shoffner.

If convicted, Shoffner could serve up to 20 years in prison on seven counts each of extortion and bribery.

Shoffner is accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and campaign contributions in exchange for steering state bond business to broker Steele Stephens.

Stephens, who isn't connected to the well-known Stephens Inc. investment firm, testified Monday that he gave Shoffner the money because he “felt sorry for her" and “thought she needed it,” acknowledging he also believed it would "improve [his] chances with her," the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Stephens received immunity from prosecution in exchange for working with the government and testifying against Shoffner. Jurors on Monday watched a video secretly recorded while Stephens was cooperating with the FBI showing him delivering an apple pie with $6,000 in cash tucked into the corner of its box.

Stephens, who testified he made about $2.5 million in commissions off the state bonds, said he had delivered identical bribes to Shoffner twice before.

Shoffner resigned from her post about a week after her arrest last May.

Shoffner found guilty on bribery, extortion charges

Former Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner was convicted on charges of bribery and extortion on Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Little Rock. (By David Harten)
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