LITTLE ROCK — Lawyers for former Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner continued Monday to argue that her conviction on federal extortion and bribery charges should be thrown out because she has committed no federal crimes.
A jury found Shoffner guilty of 14 extortion and bribery counts in U.S. District Court in Little Rock on March 11. Jurors reached the verdict after hearing testimony that broker Steele Stephens made seven cash payments to Shoffner and that she steered a disproportionate amount of the state’s investment business to Stephens, who was granted immunity from prosecution for his cooperation with the government.
Shoffner’s lawyers filed a motion March 21 arguing that she should be acquitted because the transactions between her and Stephens did not affect interstate commerce and did not involve federal money, and because Shoffner never agreed to provide anything to Stephens in return for the money.
Federal prosecutors filed a response Friday arguing that the transactions affected interstate commerce.
“Steele Stephens was targeted by Shoffner because of his status as a broker for St. Bernard Financial, a business participating in interstate commerce,” the government said in its response. “Furthermore, Steele Stephens directly participated in interstate commerce through the bond purchases and sales he conducted.”
The fact that Stephens paid Shoffner with his personal funds is immaterial to the question of whether interstate commerce was affected, the government argued.
Shoffner’s lawyers argued in a filing Monday, “Federal courts have consistently and repeatedly taken notice of the source of property obtained through robbery and extortion when considering whether alleged criminal activity falls within federal jurisdiction and constitutes a violation of the Hobbs Act,” a federal law against bribery and extortion.
The government also said in its response that the money the treasurer’s offices invests includes federal grant money. Shoffner’s lawyers argued in their brief Monday that a federal bribery conviction requires a showing that the federal government had an interest in the alleged bribery, not just a showing that federal grant money flows into the state coffers.
On the issue of whether Shoffner agreed to do anything in exchange for the money she received, the government said in its response that such an agreement was clear from the evidence, which included audio and video recordings of conversations between Shoffner and Stephens.
“Shoffner’s own statements and assurances to Steele Stephens about directing business to him in the future and putting a good word in for him with the new treasurer, as well as her concerns about detection and insistence upon secrecy, demonstrate that Shoffner knew the payments were made in return for official acts,” the government argued.
Shoffner’s lawyers argued Monday that “the government failed to offer any evidence of a quid pro quo or testimony indicating that there was an agreement between the defendant and Steele Stephens whereby the defendant would perform certain official acts in exchange for the payment of money.”
The former Democratic treasurer resigned May 21, three days after her arrest by FBI agents at her home in Newport. She has been allowed to remain free pending a sentencing hearing.