Shoffner indicted on extortion, bribery counts

LITTLE ROCK — Former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner, whose guilty plea to a single federal corruption charge was rejected by a federal judge less than a week ago, was named in a 14-count extortion and bribery indictment Wednesday.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment in which Shoffner faces six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of receipt of bribery.

Shoffner had been under investigation for more than a year because of suspect bond transactions in her office when federal authorities took her into custody at her Newport home May 18 after an informant delivered a $6,000 cash payment in a pie box. She resigned May 21, a day after appearing before a federal magistrate.

Last Friday, Shoffner went to federal court to plead guilty to a single public corruption charge, but U.S. District Leon Holmes rejected the plea when Shoffner refused to say she took cash payments from a broker in exchange for shifting state bond business to him.

U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer told reporters after the judge’s ruling that his office would proceed with an indictment against Shoffner that likely would include additional charges. Thyer announced the indictment Wednesday.

Shoffner’s lawyer, Chuck Banks of Little Rock, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Shoffner, 68, is accused of accepting more than $36,000 in cash payments from a bond broker in exchange for steering a large portion of the state’s investment business.

In court Friday, she admitted to accepting payments but refused to say the money was in return for acts she made as treasurer. She said she received money to pay her rent.

In December, the Legislative Joint Audit Committee requested a criminal investigation into the way Shoffner’s office sold bonds, including her decision to sell bonds before they matured, resulting in an overall economic loss to the state of $434,249.

The bond transactions with St. Bernard Financial Services of Russellville were made by one broker, Steele Stephens, who resigned from the firm following Shoffner’s arrest.

Shoffner said during an audit committee meeting she never received any personal financial benefits St. Bernard Financial or any other firm with which her office had dealings.