Update: Martha Shoffner Withdraws Planned Guilty Plea

by Gwen Moritz  on Friday, May. 31, 2013 2:32 pm  

As is standard, Holmes explained to Shoffner her legal rights and the ramifications of giving up some of those rights by waiving indictment and pleading guilty. He asked if she understood that she could plead guilty or not guilty, and after a long pause, Shoffner replied, "Guilty." Holmes corrected her, saying that he had not yet asked for her plea but only whether she realized that she didn't have to plead guilty. She said she understood.

The Plea Agreement

The plea agreement as described in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jana Harris called for Shoffner to admit that she "corruptly solicited or demanded" approximately $36,000 in bribes -- six payments of $6,000 each -- between 2010 and 2012, and to agree to forfeit $4,020 in cash that was left over from the last bribe she received from the broker in 2012. The plea, then, would not cover the $6,000 in FBI funds she took from the same broker during a sting operation that led to her immediate arrest on May 18.

The charge under the plea agreement would have carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but the guideline prison sentence under the terms of the agreement would probably not have exceeded 18 months.

The plea agreement also allowed Shoffner to petition for a more lenient sentence than the guidelines would suggest. Federal judges are not required to follow the sentencing guidelines.

Original story:

A felony plea hearing has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes' courtroom, and Arkansas Business has confirmed that the defendant who will waive indictment and plead guilty is former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner.

Shoffner was charged May 20 with extortion based on a criminal referral by an FBI agent involved in a sting involving a $6,000 bribe, but she has not been indicted by a federal grand jury.

Shoffner, 68, did not enter a plea at her May 20 hearing. At the time, her attorney, Chuck Banks of Little Rock, told reporters that Shoffner would enter a not guilty plea.

Waiving indictment and pleading guilty could reduce Shoffner's potential prison sentence, as federal sentencing guidelines provide for leniency for defendants who "accept responsibility."

FBI agents arrested Shoffner May 18 for violating the Hobbs Act, a federal law that is often cited in cases of official corruption, and the criminal complaint describes he offense as "extortion under color of official right."

The criminal complaint, a signed affidavit by FBI Special Agent Richard McLain, was released ahead of Shoffner's May 20 court appearance and alleges multiple payments to Shoffner by a broker who had done business with the Arkansas Treasurer's Office.

(View the Complaint: Click here to download a PDF of the complaint.)

The broker, identified in the complaint as "Confidential Human Source 1," has been working as a witness for the FBI and granted immunity from prosecution by the federal government. In all, the FBI said Shoffner took at least $36,000 from the broker.

On Wednesday, Gov. Mike Beebe appointed Charles Robinson, a former legislative auditor, to fill the remainder of Shoffner's term.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.