JUST IN: Brian Chilson reports from federal courthouse that Judge Leon Holmes has sentenced former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner to 30 months in prison for taking bribes for state bond business. It will be followed by some supervised release. No fine was assessed. The 71-year-old will have to report to a Fort Worth prison in 60 days.
She faced as much as 15 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. Her attorney had asked for 12 to 18 months, with half that in home detention. U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer, who’d asked for 60 months, said he was satisfied with the outcome. Banks told reporters afterward that he thought the sentence fair. 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 $31,920 she’d kept in bribes —- but as a public official should do prison time. (She got $36,000, but $4,020 was seized by law officers on the day of her arrest, the famous pie box cash.)
Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner will be in federal court at 9 a.m. this morning for sentencing on her conviction of taking kickbacks from bond salesman Steele Stephens for state bond business. She resigned after being trapped in an FBI-recorded sting with Stephens, who’s never been charged, wearing a wire.
The hearing is expected to take two hours. Her attorney, Chuck Banks, has argued for leniency for the 71-year-old defendant. A probation office report has suggested a sentence in the 15- to 20-year range. Judge Leon Holmes will decide the sentence. The hearing is estimated to take two hours.
Shoffner had no comment to reporters gathered in advance of the hearing.
David Koon reports that the judge has overruled Shoffner’s objections to the government’s holding of what the crimes cost the state. Shoffner’s attorney argued that the only loss was $36,000 in bribes, not the value of the bond business of $1.7 million. 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. He said Stephens benefited from the bribes to the tune of $900,000 the amount by which his $1.7 million in commissions exceeded the next biggest bond dealer who did business with Shoffner.
The judge said the federal sentencing guidelines indicated 151 to 180 months in prison and a $250,000 fine, plus $31,000 in restitution (the bribes minus the amount seized by FBI). But the judge can depart from the guidelines. The hearing recessed after about 90 minutes. Shoffner is to speak in her defense after the recess. Her attorney has argued that the state repeated $26 million in profits from the business with Stephens.
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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.
Banks asked Holmes to consider Shoffner’s “good deeds,” including her work for the Humane Society. 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. He called two character witnesses to the stand to testify on her behalf.
He also said that in her capacity as treasurer, Shoffner’s books consistently balanced and audits found no problems in the accounts of the office itself.
“She was in all honesty doing a pretty dadgum good job,” Banks said. “I’m proud to be standing with this poor woman here at this dark hour … she really is gullible. She really is naive.”
He repeatedly hammered home this point about Shoffner’s supposed ineptitude, saying that she’d met with Steele Stephens and accepted another bribe even after he’d told her that he had been called by the FBI. (The FBi raided her home the next day.) At one point in her initial interview with the FBI, Banks said, Shoffner asked “do you think they’re going to fine me?”
Banks said Shoffner has experienced the most public vilification that he has ever seen in his career as an attorney. He compared her haggard appearance today with a picture of her being sworn in a few years ago, to show the physical toll her ordeal has taken. He said she was now “disgraced,” “broke” and “ostracized” and noted that she drove to the courthose in a 2003 Oldsmobile this morning.
He also pointed out that Steele Stephens received complete immunity from prosecution for his cooperation with the FBI. Stephens got a $25,000 fine and lost his brokers license, and “that’s it,” Banks said.
The attorney argued that sentencing Shoffner to a long period in jail would not serve the public interest, and urged Holmes to give her only as much punishment needed “to repair people’s confidence in the office.” She might not live out a harsh sentence, he said.
“I don’t know how much more you can do to her. She’s just had enough.”
Shoffner herself also gave a brief, emotional statement. 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.
“To this court, I ask for mercy,” she concluded.