Chuck Banks, attorney for Martha Shoffner, has filed an objection in federal court to the probation office’s recommendation of a 15- to 20-year sentence for the former treasurer, who took bribes from securities salesman Steele Stephens for state bond business.
Banks said a more appropriate sentence under accurately interpreted guidelines would be 41 to 51 months, but he said even that is too much considering facts such as the nature of the crime, her age (she turns 71 in July) and the punishment she’s already suffered in loss of office, shame and even being an object of derision in political ads. Banks recommended a 12- to 18-month sentence, with up to nine months in a community institution such as a halfway house and the rest in home detention, with “rigorous community service.”
Banks objected to the factual findings in the pre-sentence report, including a characterization about how business had been historically spread among brokers by the treasurer. The treasurer isn’t bound by law on how the business is divided. He also objected to findings that Shoffner had talked to Stephens about purchasing property for her or paying rent. He also emphasized that Stephens had never said he’d face “adverse consequences” if he did not pay cash to Shoffner. Rather, he said he felt sorry for her circumstances. Banks said, too, that while Shoffner admitted taking the money and knew it was wrong, she did not know she was committing a federal crime.
The report apparently includes recordings made of Shoffner but not introduced into evidence. Stephens was wired by the FBI when he took a payment to Shoffner. Banks wrote:
Defendant’s Counsel objects to the inclusion of recordings which are not in evidence, taken out of context, and included only to embarrass the Defendant and prejudice the Court.
The inclusion of crass language serves no purpose but to embarrass the Defendant, a good person who has made some bad decisions. More troublesome is the selective arrangement of quotations, removed from a recording, to show Ms. Shoffner in an unfavorable light, in the objective presentence report.
Banks objected to including the $2.4 million in commissions paid Stephens as a loss to the state. He said the amount considered as a state loss couldn’t be more than the $36,000 Stephens paid to Shoffner. He said there was no evidence of a direct tie between those payments and trades.
Shoffner’s decision to go to trial, after first trying to plead guilty, should not count against her in sentencing, he said. He said she’d accepted responsibility for her actions and resigned her office promptly. He believes the large disparity in the amount of money Shoffner received versus what Stephens made merits a downward departure in a sentence. Stephens was charged with no crime and no effort was made to recover the money he made, Banks noted.
Banks additionally filed a memorandum argument for more lenient treatment. It includes testimonials from friends and the legal argument that, among others:
Ms. Shoffner never intended, nor was there any financial damage to the Treasurer‟s office. There was no money lost, stolen, or pilfered. No money was lost from financial trades or transactions due to lost opportunities to make more money. No capital losses were taken, no unrealized losses were placed on the books. Arkansas is one of five states to maintain a surplus in its Treasury even after the recession of 2008-2012. The trades in question that bring Shoffner to punishment actually made the state profits, rather than any loss. The benefits derived by Steele Stephens may be grossly overvalued but, even if not, none of this alleged value to Steele Stephens was sought by Martha Shoffner nor was it was shared with Martha Shoffner. Ms. Shoffner asks that the Court keep these unique circumstances of the case and of the trial in mind when imposing her sentence.
Banks said Shoffner, 71, was a “valued member of her church and community” and had been a “widely respected” public servant as a county official and legislator.
Shoffner presents no likelihood of future offenses, Banks said, and faces difficult circumstances.
She drives a 2003 Oldsmobile Alero and lives in a house which needs much repair. Her home is heavily mortgaged. As the Court will see in one of her letters of support, Ms. Shoffner has needed a new roof for some time, but has only been able to afford replacing one-half of her roof.10 She understands that she will lose her home, after a sentence is issued in this case, due to a loss of social security income and lack of ability to work and earn income as she has done steadily throughout her life.
Banks said the presiding judge, Leon Holmes, should consider difficulties the elderly face in prison, including a higher potential for abuse. The probation office has reconmended 188- to 235-month sentence and he said she might not live to the end of a 188-month sentence, or more than 15 years.
In pleading for mercy, Banks also wrote:
Martha Shoffner is a religious person. As discussed earlier, she attends the Presbyterian Church in Newport. In addition to her faith, she received great joy and serenity in her love for her mother and father – especially her mother, Helen. She remembers with great pride the joy that her mother received on the day she was sworn in for her first term as Treasurer of Arkansas. The heartache and shame that she feels of having brought humiliation to her mother‟s and father‟s good names, at times, seems too much. She believes, regardless of the Court‟s judgment, that this remorse and embarrassment of her actions to the citizens of Arkansas will be with her the remainder of her life. She will say these things publicly at the time of her sentencing.
Banks noted several white collar crime cases with downward departures in sentencing and commented:
It is unprecedented that any public official receive the punishment proposed in the Presentence Investigation Report, not to mention such a harsh sentence that has already been enhanced by way of intense, crass, and relentless public attention and media coverage. Such is the situation where Martha Shoffner finds herself. Public vilification for her actions has already punished her in a manner that erodes her basic sense of decency. She is all but branded as evil.
She has been ostracized, shunned, and brought to feel humiliation that is callous and without charity, understanding, or mercy. Counsel‟s attempts to keep up with the newscasts, articles, and all other forms of electronic or print media were given up long ago. The punishment of Martha Shoffner began when she was arrested, and treated unlike any other individual who is not a safety threat and charged with a similar nonviolent crime. Ms. Shoffner was handcuffed and transported from Newport to the Pulaski County jail. She was put in general population under FBI hold, it must have been understood that she would not be released without FBI approval until Monday morning. She was stripped, sprayed for lice, booked, given prison garments, one blanket, a steel cot with a steel mattress, and a placed on suicide watch with a severely limited diet throughout Saturday, Saturday evening, all day Sunday, and Sunday evening. Except for the two female matrons and their kindnesses, the experience would have been a nightmare.