Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner was expected to plead guilty this morning to a federal charge related to her use of campaign money for personal expenses.
But, as in her first case, there were complications. Because she wouldn’t give a definitive admission to guilt on the charge underlying the case, the plea deal was nixed. She will go to trial in three weeks.
She’d earlier been convicted of taking payments from a securities salesman in return for a big share of state investment business when she was treasurer. The trial followed an initial plea hearing at which she was expected to enter a negotiated plea. But she didn’t answer the judge’s questions conclusively enough on her guilt on that occasion and the deal was scrapped.
Today, the charges concern her use of campaign money to pay personal expenses charged to her credit card. This morning, reports from the courthouse said she again responded to proceedings with comments that made the presiding judge, Leon Holmes, uncertain about her admission of guilt. There’s been a recess as parties attempt to clear the matter up.
Sentencing on the original conviction had been delayed for the customary probation office report and also while she awaited trial on the second part of the case. Shoffner is about 70. She faces a sentence up to 20 years on the most serious charges. There were 14 counts in the case heard by a jury in March.
UPDATE FROM DAVID KOON:
The former treasurer was given the chance to plead guilty to a single count of mail fraud; the government alleges that she sent funds from her campaign account in November 2010 (from an Iberia Bank in Arkansas) to pay off a personal credit card account out of state. Prosecutors say that by sending campaign funds across state lines to pay for personal items — clothes and cosmetics — she committed a federal crime. In return for pleading guilty to that single count of fraud, the government was going to drop five additional counts.
Now that deal is off, because Shoffner balked at admitting guilt. When Judge Holmes asked Shoffner if she solicited money from campaign contributors with intent to use it for personal items, she and her lawyer stepped away from the mic and asked to take a recess. When Shoffner returned, she said she’d never raised campaign money with the intent to use the funds for her personal benefit.
Holmes said the new trial on the remaining counts will commence in three weeks. Shoffner’s lawyer asked for a short continuance, but Holmes said that will depend on whether there’s any conflict with the court’s calendar. He said it’s time for the case to be moved along.
The trial date has been set Feb. 2.