U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer filed a motion in federal district court today asking a judge to dismiss the remaining charges against former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner.
Shoffner, convicted earlier of taking bribes from a bond salesman, still faced charges of converting $9,800 in campaign contributions to personal use, such as clothing and cosmetics. Those are the charges that would be dropped on the judge’s expected approval, 10 in all.
She had been expected to enter a negotiated plea Nov. 10 to those charges, but that plan was scrapped after federal Judge Leon Holmes asked her whether she intended to convert the money to personal use when she solicited it. Shoffner was prepared to admit converting the money to pay for personal credit card bills, but not that she’d had a scheme on running for office to do so. That was one of the elements of the charge.
Said Thyer’s motion in moving to dismiss remaining counts:
The United States anticipated an alternative resolution to the remaining counts that would conserve resources and promote judicial economy, but that resolution was not achieved. The United States has carefully considered the resources necessary to pursue this second trial, the anticipated sentencing guideline range the defendant faces based upon the convictions in Counts 1-14 [the bribery-related charges], and the potential impact on the guideline range if convictions were obtained on Counts 15-24. The United States has determined that the appropriate course of action is to present evidence of the defendant’s conduct, as alleged in Counts 15-24, at the sentencing hearing …
In other words, she faces a heavy sentence on her first conviction and the other accusations can be considered as the judge arrives at a sentence. Each of the 14 counts on which she was convicted carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. She won’t be sentenced until a probation office report is completed. Shoffner is 70. She resigned after an FBI sting caught her on tape taking $6,000 in a pie box from Steele Stephens, who did a half-billion worth of bond deals with Shoffner. He gave her $36,000 in cash and also helped her raise campaign money. He was given immunity from prosecution for his cooperation and currently is not working in the securities industry. An administrative proceeding continues at the state Securities Department to attempt to prevent him from going back to work. His former employer is also under scrutiny for failure to supervise him.
Chuck Banks, Shoffner’s attorney, said, “I think it was for the right thing for them to do.” He said sentencing likely would come sometime in early February and that he expected Shoffner to be allowed to remain free until then. He said his preliminary study of federal sentencing guidelines (he’s a former prosecutor himself) indicated a sentence in the range of 4.3 to 5.1 years. Banks said Shoffner was in good physical health, but the trials had been emotionally draining.
Shoffner resigned within days after being arrested. Charles Robinson, a retired state auditor, was appointed to fill out her term. Dennis Milligan has been elected to take over the office in January.
Thyer commented further in a press release:
As set forth in our motion, we have given this matter considerable and careful thought prior to announcing the decision today. Based on our estimate of the anticipated sentencing guideline range that Ms. Shoffner faces as a result of the March 11th convictions and our expectation that if she was convicted on the mail fraud charges, there would be minimal, if any, impact on the sentencing guideline range, I have determined that the appropriate course for the United States is to dismiss these charges. My determination included careful consideration of the resources necessary to pursue a second trial. What Ms. Shoffner did was wrong on many levels—not the least of which was the breach of the trust placed in her by the electorate. However, at this time, it is best to move forward with sentencing on the bribery and extortion convictions, and we anticipate presenting evidence related to the mail fraud at that time.