Posted 12/14/2012 03:25 pm
Updated 1 year ago
LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas lawmakers said Friday they would ask federal or state investigators to look into Treasurer Martha Shoffner's decision to sell bonds before they matured, a move auditors have said cost the state more than $434,000 worth of earnings.
The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee voted Friday to refer its review of 30 bond transactions by Shoffner's office to federal or state law enforcement. A co-chairman of the panel said he didn't know if there was criminal wrongdoing, and wasn't sure which agency would ultimately receive the audit.
"The one thing I'm certain of is there's a lot of smoke and we need to get to the bottom of it to figure out who did what," Rep. Tim Summers, R-Bentonville, told reporters. "It's the public's money and they've got a right to know."
The sale of the bonds early resulted in a net economic loss, with Arkansas losing earnings it would have made had Shoffner's office held on to the bonds, auditors said. The largest net loss, more than $783,000, came from eight transactions with St. Bernard Financial Services Inc., a Russellville-based company where Shoffner's office has purchased the bulk of its bonds.
Those net losses were partly offset by gains from other firms, the report said.
Shoffner, a Democrat who was re-elected in 2010, told lawmakers that her office relied on advice from brokers and didn't conduct its own analysis before the sales. She told the panel that she planned on changing her office's investment practices and improving documentation.
"We're taking all of the recommendations and we're going forward with new policies and new implementation," Shoffner said. "We look forward to rectifying everything."
Shoffner and the firm said the audit didn't note that the state made money on the bond sales and that the net economic losses reflected earnings the state could have made. Robert Keenan of St. Bernard Financial Services said that whether to sell the bonds was ultimately the treasurer's decision.
"We haven't done anything wrong. There are no losses," Keenan wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "I only wish people could understand the difference between economic loss and actual loss."
Friday's hearing was the second time Shoffner has appeared before the panel this year to answer questions about the bond sales. She testified in September, days after lawmakers issued a subpoena when she didn't appear at the originally scheduled hearing.
Shoffner told reporters Friday she didn't believe investigators would find any wrongdoing by her office.
Lawmakers also questioned why Shoffner's office did so much business with St. Bernard, and whether the sales were made to create new sales and fees for the brokerage firm. Auditors said the office purchased $1.69 billion in bonds from St. Bernard and a related firm between July 2008 and last March, almost double the amount purchased from any other broker.
Keenan said that each sale was made to make a profit for the state and not to generate any sales or fees for his firm.
Summers said that is one of the areas he hopes authorities can investigate.
"It has the appearance that transactions were made to benefit the broker-dealer on it, but there's no way of knowing that without a lot more investigation," Summers said.
Shoffner said she planned on conducting an analysis of her office's investment portfolio to ensure one firm is not given a disproportionate amount of the state's business.
"It will help us level out and it won't be one broker over another," she said.
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