LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges she steered state investments to a bond broker for $36,000.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe Volpe set Shoffner’s jury trial to begin July 29 and said it will take at least four days. Shoffner entered her plea during a brief hearing before Volpe.
She said little to reporters as she left the federal courthouse in downtown Little Rock, but did mention she was looking forward to her trial.
“We’re just moving forward,” Shoffner told reporters.
Shoffner was indicted June 5 on 14 federal counts of extortion and bribery charges. She was arrested at her Newport home May 18 after the FBI said it caught her on tape accepting a $6,000 payment from the broker, who hasn’t been identified. Shoffner, a Democrat who was re-elected in 2010, resigned days after her arrest.
Thursday’s appearance was her first since a plea deal with prosecutors last month fell apart at the last minute. Shoffner had been set to plead guilty May 31 to a single extortion charge, but told U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes that the payments didn’t affect her decisions as treasurer and that she didn’t intentionally steer business to the broker. Holmes rejected the plea since she wasn’t admitting guilt to all of the elements of the charge. Prosecutors then sought the broader indictment against Shoffner.
When asked why she’s pleading not guilty, Shoffner responded: “There were certain issues that were bought up that I couldn’t plead to.” She declined to elaborate as her attorney, Chuck Banks, led her away from the courthouse.
Shoffner said she was comfortable with the case going before a federal jury.
“I think that’s where you get the truth,” she said.
The FBI said in an affidavit filed in May that the broker would roll up cash in $6,000 increments and have it delivered to Shoffner’s office every six months. At least two of the payments were delivered in a pie box, pie included. The broker “recognized his/her bond business with the state grew because of the payments,” the affidavit said.
Shoffner faces six counts of extortion under color of official right and one attempted extortion charge for each of the payments the FBI says Shoffner accepted. Those charges carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The seven bribery charges cover all of the payments Shoffner received, plus the $6,000 payment the FBI said she accepted on tape in May. The bribery charges carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Gov. Mike Beebe appointed former Legislative Auditor Charles Robinson to serve the remainder of Shoffner’s term, which ends in January 2015. Robinson is barred from running for the post next year since he was appointed to it.
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