Judge lets conviction of Arkansas treasurer stand
- Article by: CHRISTINA HUYNH
- Associated Press
- April 15, 2014 - 7:05 PM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal judge Tuesday upheld the corruption conviction of Arkansas' former treasurer, saying prosecutors proved she illegally influenced interstate commerce and rejecting her argument that the case against her should have been heard by state authorities.
Lawyers for Martha Shoffner had said the Arkansas Ethics Commission — not federal jurors — should have addressed claims that she accepted $36,000 from a bond broker who did business with the state.
"Perhaps so," U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes said in his 15-page order.
"Her crimes represent a breach of trust against the State of Arkansas much more than an injury to interstate commerce or a wrong against the federal government," he wrote.
But he went on to say federal prosecutors had a right to the case, too.
Defense attorney Chuck Banks said he had not read the court's order nor talked to Shoffner about it.
"I can't tell you what we're going to do next," he said.
Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Shoffner resigned as state treasurer after being charged last May. A jury convicted her March 11 on 14 bribery and extortion charges.
Shoffner's attorneys had filed a motion to acquit based on the federal jurisdiction issue. But Holmes had delayed issuing ruling until Tuesday, saying he would only do so if a guilty verdict was returned and after the sides filed written briefs arguing their positions.
Throughout the trial, Shoffner claimed that her acceptance of money from the bond broker didn't influence how she did business.
Holmes disagreed, though, and in a large part of his order detailed how broker Steele Stephens, who testified under immunity, came to handle a growing portion of the state's investments — at one time triple the amount of the next-highest broker on the list.
"The evidence established that this disproportionate share of the state's investment business was given to Stephens at Shoffner's direction, over her staff's objection," Holmes wrote.
The judge also said Shoffner gave Stephens details about the entire state's portfolio, including investment maturity dates, giving him an advantage over other brokers who didn't have the same information.
Holmes noted that Shoffner changed the way her office did business after Stephens gave her money in $6,000 increments — at times in a pie box — to help her pay the rent on a Little Rock apartment.
"The jury could reasonably conclude that the favoritism showed to Stephens by Shoffner resulted from his payments to her," the judge wrote. He wrote further that some of the charges against Shoffner required only that she obtained payments to which she was not entitled — not a broad influence on interstate commerce.
"Shoffner's 'official right' gave her leverage over a substantial amount of interstate commerce. She used that 'official right' to obtain payments from Stephens to which she was not entitled," Holmes wrote.
Prosecutors argued during Shoffner's trial that Arkansas bonds were traded across state lines and included some federal grant money.
Shoffner also faces 10 counts of mail fraud after prosecutors accused her of misspending campaign funds on personal items.
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