Federal prosecutors filed a motion Tuesday to dismiss the 10 counts of mail fraud to which former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner tried but failed to plead guilty.
Instead of trying Shoffner, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jana Harris suggested in her motion that the government would present evidence that Shoffner misused campaign funds — the essence of the mail fraud counts — at a sentencing hearing on the 14 counts of extortion that Shoffner was convicted of in March.
"We don't have any objection to it," Chuck Banks, Shoffner's defense attorney, said of the motion to dismiss, which he said he expected U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes to grant.
But as to the government's hopes of continuing to use the dismissed charges against his client, Banks said, "Obviously, I'm not waiving my objection to that."
Shoffner attempted to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud on Nov. 10, and she admitted in open court that she had used some $9,800 in campaign funds to pay for personal items charged on her personal credit card.
But Holmes refused to accept her guilty plea when she said she didn't solicit the campaign donations with the intention of misappropriating the money. That, Holmes said, was an element of the crime she was accused of.
U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer issued a news release saying that the decision to seek dismissal of the 14 mail fraud counts was made after "considerable and careful thought."
"My determination included careful consideration of the resources necessary to pursue a second trial," Thyer said in the statement. "What Ms. Shoffner did was wrong on many levels[,] not the least of which was the breach of the trust placed in her by the electorate. However, at this time, it is best to move forward with sentencing on the bribery and extortion convictions, and we anticipate presenting evidence related to the mail fraud at that time."
Asked whether any other jurisdiction could pursue charges against Shoffner for misusing campaign funds, Banks said, "I presume [Pulaski County] Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley could. I guess the Jackson County prosecutor could find something in there if he wanted to."
Shoffner is from Newport in Jackson County, and it was there that she was arrested by FBI agents after accepting $6,000 from former bond broker Steele Stephens.
Stephens, who admitted to five earlier payments of similar size, cooperated with the FBI and was granted immunity from prosecution.