LITTLE ROCK — A jury found former Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner guilty on all counts at the conclusion Tuesday of her five-day trial on federal extortion and bribery charges.
After deliberating a little more than four hours, the jury of seven women and five men found Shoffner guilty of six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of receipt of bribery. Shoffner sat impassively as the verdict was read and declined to talk to reporters while walking out of the federal courthouse in Little Rock with her attorneys.
Defense lawyer Chuck Banks told reporters, "Obviously we’re disappointed, but you know it was a tough case, and the jury’s never wrong. They got it right."
Federal prosecutors who presented the government’s case in the trial declined to comment.
U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes told Shoffner she could remain free until her sentencing hearing. No date for the hearing was announced.
Shoffner faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each extortion count and up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each bribery count.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Shoffner received seven payments of $6,000 each from broker Steele Stephens — the first six in Stephens’ money and the seventh in FBI money — and that in exchange for the money she steered a disproportionate amount of the state’s investment business to Stephens.
The defense argued that the cash deliveries were gifts, not bribes, and that there was no explicit quid-pro-quo agreement between Shoffner and Stephens.
The evidence presented to jurors included an audio recording of a January 2013 conversation between Shoffner and Stephens in which they discussed the payments and a May 2013 hidden-camera video of Stephens delivering $6,000 in FBI money to Shoffner in a pie box at her Newport home.
Federal authorities arrested Shoffner immediately after that delivery. She resigned three days later.
Stephens, who has been promised immunity from prosecution for his cooperation, testified that he made the payments to Shoffner and that he believed he received more of the state’s investment business than other brokers because of the payments.
Jurors were told that between 2008 and 2012, Stephens did about $2 billion worth of bond trades for the state, more than twice the amount of the state’s business handled by any other broker in that time, and that by the end of 2012 he had an inventory of bonds with the treasurer’s office totaling more than $600 million, or more than three times the inventory of any other broker trading bonds for the state.
Shoffner also is charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and is scheduled to stand trial on those charges March 31, although Banks has filed a motion to postpone that trial. The government alleges that Shoffner used campaign contributions to make payments on a personal credit card.
The defense rested its case Tuesday morning without calling any witnesses. The state had rested Monday afternoon.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti said that despite the defense’s arguments to the contrary, Martha Shoffner is not a victim.
"She betrayed the trust of the people of the state of Arkansas by taking bribes, by extorting money," Mazzanti said. "She had power, she had control. She was an elected state official: the treasurer of the state of Arkansas. She misused that power by taking money that she was not entitled to receive. She didn’t just make a mistake. She did this seven times from 2010 to 2013. Seven times. She did it over and over and over again. She is guilty."
Defense attorney Chuck Banks asked the jurors to remember all of Stephens’ testimony, including his testimony that he had wanted to help Shoffner because she was having financial problems.
"That’s the way he told you: ‘I felt sorry for her; I gave it to her; I offered it to her.’ She didn’t induce nothing off nobody," Banks said.
Mazzanti reminded jurors that according to Stephens’ testimony, he and Shoffner came up with the plan for Stephens to make the payments to Shoffner after Shoffner had asked him to buy her a house, an idea that they decided would draw too much attention.
Banks also argued that members of Shoffner’s staff disliked her and plotted against her. He asked the jurors whether they believed Shoffner had the ability to orchestrate the scheme the government alleged.
He admitted to the jury that defending Shoffner was difficult.
"You think it’s been fun to represent Martha Shoffner? No. I wanted to run out from under her a hundred times," he said, then told the jury a story about the Boston Massacre and John Adams’ decision to defend British soldiers when no other lawyer would.
Holmes made no mention Tuesday of a motion for acquittal by the defense that he had taken under advisement a day earlier. Attorneys said they expected that issue to be taken up sometime later.