Ex-Arkansas treasurer gets 2 ½ years in prison

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

At the Martha Shoffner Sentencing, Questions Over ‘Benefit,’ Jurisdiction.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison on Friday following her conviction last year on federal bribery and extortion charges. A federal jury found Shoffner guilty last year of six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of receipt of bribery in connection with a series of cash payments she received from broker Steele Stephens between 2010 and 2013. Prosecutors said Shoffner steered a disproportionate amount of the state’s investment business to Stephens in exchange for the bribes, which consisted of six payments of $6,000 of Stephens’ money and one payment of $6,000 provided by the FBI after Stephens began cooperating with investigators. Her attorney, Chuck Banks, had argued that the 71-year-old Shoffner should receive a sentence of 12 to 18 months, with half in-home detention, because of her age.

Holmes agreed that, by backing out of her original agreement to plead guilty, Shoffner lost her chance to get a lighter sentence for accepting responsibility for her crime. Holmes also agreed that the size of the crime — the “benefit” received — should be calculated based on how much Stephens received in commission on the state business she steered to him rather than on the $36,000 she pocketed before the sting. Shoffner was arrested in May 2013 after an FBI raid at her Newport home, where agents said they found $6,000 that was delivered in a pie box by the broker, who was cooperating with authorities.

But the judge rejected the prosecution’s original argument that the guideline be based on the total of $1.7 million in commissions that Stephens received during the three-year “bribe period” beginning in mid-2010, a figure that would have resulted in a sentencing range of between 15 and 19 years. Stephens had been doing business with the treasurer’s office before he started giving money to Shoffner, and Holmes said it would be an “error” to assume that he would have received no more commissions without paying bribes. He also ordered her to pay $31,980 in restitution to the state, an amount reflecting the bribes she received minus money that FBI agents seized when they arrested her. But when it came time to sentence her, Holmes departed dramatically from the guideline range of 151-188 months and even from the range of 63-78 months that Assistant U.S. Holmes said he took into account Shoffner’s age, her lack of a criminal past and her unlikeliness to re-offend but also considered the damage she did to the reputation and integrity of the state treasurer’s office.

Shoffner didn’t talk to reporters except to reiterate in response to a question that “yes, of course” she apologized to the people of Arkansas for what she’d done. Judge Leon Holmes said Shoffner had netted little — he ordered restitution of $31,000 she’d kept in bribes —- but as a public official should do prison time. In the end, he sentenced the 71-year-old to 30 months in federal prison and rejected Banks’ request that the sentence be split between prison and a halfway house. Instead, he will recommend that she be incarcerated at the Carswell Federal Correctional Institute near Fort Worth, Texas, which has extensive medical facilities that the City of Faith halfway house in Little Rock does not. Holmes seemed to catch prosecutor White off-guard when asked, essentially, why a state official’s crime in which only the state of Arkansas was a victim was prosecuted in federal court rather than in state court.

Holmes even asked White whether it might be appropriate to consider the punishment contemplated by state laws against abuse of office when crafting a sentence for Shoffner. Holmes threw out the idea of sentencing Shoffner to probation and challenging state authorities to prosecute her, then concluded, “But that won’t do her any good.” Talking to reporters afterward, U.S. Holmes held there were multiple payments for multiple actions and the $36,000, paid in six installments, didn’t amount to a single payment, which also means a potential enhancement of the sentence. Banks asked the court to show mercy on Shoffner, saying she “made a terrible, terrible error in judgment” and characterizing her as “gullible” and “clueless.” He said that she was inclined to accept the bribes from Stephens in large part because she was in a bad financial situation, having underestimated the cost of commuting on a regular basis between Newport and Little Rock. He presented the court with a picture of her dog, Fred, and said he was moved by the fact that after Shoffner was first arrested, she asked Banks to call her sister to check on Fred.

She said there were “not enough words to express the remorse I feel,” apologizing to the public for her “wrong, illegal and unethical behavior” and to her deceased parents for bringing shame to her family’s names.

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