Jurors Deliberate in Martha Shoffner Corruption Case

by Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press  on Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014 4:34 pm  

Defense attorney Chuck Banks and Martha Shoffner (file photo).

Update: The jury has found Martha Shoffner guilty.

LITTLE ROCK - Prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed Tuesday that a former Arkansas treasurer shouldn't have accepted $36,000 from a bond dealer who did business with the state but differed on whether she committed a federal crime.

Jurors began deliberating after Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti told them the case before them was simple: Martha Shoffner accepted money from the broker and let him control a larger share of the state's bond portfolio.

"She's guilty. She did this. She's guilty," Mazzanti said.

The broker, who was granted immunity from prosecution, said he received about $2.5 million in commissions. Under his agreement to aid the government, he can keep the fees.

Defense lawyer Chuck Banks told jurors that while it was wrong for Shoffner to take the money from a broker seeking a larger share of the state's business, her case should have been taken to the state Ethics Commission, not a federal judge and jury, after FBI agents arrested her with $10,000 last May.

"She did something that was wrong and she resigned within 48 hours of being let out of court," Banks said.

Banks also said that Shoffner worked too cheaply to be considered corrupt. If she were truly a criminal, he said, she would have demanded more money.

Related: State Securities Department Goes After Firm That Did Business With Shoffner's Office

Defense lawyers Monday asked U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes to declare that prosecutors did not prove that a federal crime had occurred. Rather than ruling immediately, Holmes withheld judgment, saying the defense team raised questions about jurisdiction that couldn't be settled without both sides filing written briefs.

After beginning their deliberations, jurors told the judge they wanted to listen again to recordings the broker made in secret while meeting with Shoffner, but were having problems with equipment sent into the room.

Instead of calling witnesses Tuesday, and reinforcing its believe that government lawyers didn't do their job, the defense said it didn't need anyone to testify on Shoffner's behalf and opted to go straight into closing arguments.

Shoffner also faces a separate trial on allegations she misspent money from a campaign account, but her attorneys are seeking a delay.

Mazzanti went through a litany of Shoffner's alleged crimes, detailing the $36,000 she accepted in exchange for assuring Stephens got twice as much state bond business than any other broker. "It's that simple," she said.

Mazzanti also described Shoffner taking cash campaign contributions from Stephens and pocketing them, saying his first donation showed Shoffner he was somebody she could get money from.

At one point, jurors heard a recorded conversation between Shoffner and broker Steele Stephens in which Shoffner says, "I feel like I'm a (expletive) criminal."

Mazzanti told the panel Tuesday: "There's a reason she felt that way" and that the treasurer had "betrayed the trust of the people of Arkansas."

Banks said Stephens tailored his testimony to help a government prosecution that otherwise wouldn't be successful - and also to preserve his commissions.

"Do you not think there would be some sort of proof here?" he asked.

In rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White acknowledged that some of Stephens' testimony was self-serving but that he confirmed the essence of the charges: He paid Shoffner to get more state business.

Early in the trial, witnesses described Shoffner as being "bossy" and ill-informed, and Banks suggested that employees in her office worked to undermine the treasurer.

"She's not on trial for not being liked," Banks said.

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