Martha Shoffner, Former Arkansas Treasurer, Found Guilty Of Extortion, Bribery

Jonathan Vankin

Martha Shoffner, the former elected treasurer of the state of Arkansas, was found guilty by a jury in federal court Tuesday on six counts of extortion, one of attempted extortion and seven counts of taking bribes. But the corruption saga of the twice-elected Democrat is not over yet.

Shoffner still faces 10 counts of mail fraud over allegations that she used campaign funds to buy things for herself. She faces 20 years in prison for each extortion charge and 10 for each bribery charge. Each charge also carries a possible $250,000 fine.

Martha Shoffner, 69, served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1997 to 2003. She was elected state treasurer in 2006 then reelected in 2010. But she stepped down from the office on May 21 of last year, three days after she was arrested on the bribery and extortion charges, amid calls for her to be impeached.

Prosecutors say she use her position to wring money out of a bond dealer who did business with the state, Steele Stephens, sending twice as much business to Stephens than to any of the other brokers who had approval to buy and sell state bonds.

Stephens by his own account made $2.5 million in commissions from bond business thrown his way by Martha Shoffner. And it only cost him $36,000 in cash, delivered to Shoffner's home. When the FBI searched her Newport house, agents found $6,000 in a pie box — cash the feds themselves had given Stephens to pass on to Shoffner in a sting operation.

But Stephens earlier made six payments of his own money in the same amount to Martha Shoffner.

The bond dealer said he considered Martha Shoffner a friend, but by turning against her as a federal witness and helping the FBI catch Shoffner red-handed with the cash, Stephens not only received immunity from the charges himself, he was allowed to keep the $2.5 million he made thanks to the bribes he paid to the state treasurer.

Martha Shoffner had homes both in Newport and in Little Rock. According to evidence at the trial, she was having trouble paying for both, so she demanded that Stephens pay her $1,000 per month. They agreed that, to keep up appearances, he would deliver the cash in $6,000 bundles every six months.

They first considered the possibility that Stephens would buy Shoffner a house, but decided that would be too conspicuous.

While Martha Shoffner refused to comment to reporters as she left the courthouse in Little Rock Tuesday, her lawyer appeared conciliatory.

"Obviously we're disappointed, but you know it was a tough case, and the jury's never wrong," said Chuck Banks. "They got it right."

Earlier, Banks told the jury, "She didn't induce nothing off nobody."

The defense lawyers for Martha Shoffner had argued that the cash from Stephens was simply a series of kind-hearted gifts and that there was no expectation that she would treat him any differently than any other bond broker just because he would shower her with money twice per year.