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Former AR State Treasurer Federal Trial Begins

While she faces multiple charges of bribery and extortion, former Arkansas State Treasurer, Martha Shoffner says payments she received didn't influence any decision she made as Treasurer.
Little Rock -- (Fox 16)  While she faces multiple charges of bribery and extortion, former Arkansas State Treasurer, Martha Shoffner says payments she received didn't influence any decision she made as Treasurer.

Wednesday (3/5) afternoon 12 jurors and two alternates comprised of seven males and seven females were seated and sworn in, beginning the official trial with opening statements.

Shoffner's defense attorney Chuck Banks spoke to the jury saying that while what his client did, accepting money from a man that did business with the State of Arkansas as a broker, was wrong, the six $6,000 payments she received from this man has nothing to do with the 14 federal charges listed in the indictment which include extortion and bribery following an FBI investigation.

Banks told the jury the receipt of money did not result in a trade or promise of State business for the broker. Banks suggested that where we should be right now is in an ethics committee meeting rather than a federal courthouse. Banks says there's a difference between an "ethical breach of duties versus a federal crime."

Banks addressed Shoffner's work while as State Treasurer saying "not one dime was lost to the State of Arkansas" during the time this was taking place.

Shoffner's defense attorney during the opening statement ended by telling the jury Shoffner "didn't extort or make promises" to the broker in exchange of he had called a gift. Banks says Shoffner resigned because of a breach of trust and this case hasn't been anything beyond what should be an ethics commission case.

FBI investigators said in federal court that Shoffner was arrested at her home in Newport in May of 2013 after meeting with a confidential informant, the broker, and accepting a payment of $6,000 delivered in a pie box.

During the Prosecution's opening statement to the jury, Assistant US Attorney, Jana Harris laid out each of the 14 charges listed in the Federal indictment against Shoffner. Harris explained the relationship between Shoffner and the broker they say she did business with, a broker identified by the prosecutor as Steele Stephens of St. Bernard Financial and formerly a company called Apple Tree.

In the opening statement to jurors, Harris told the jury to expect witness testimony that will describe Shoffner complaining about her salary and having a lack of money as State Treasurer.

Harris also told the jury to expect witness testimony confirming first, a contribution by Stephens to Shoffner's campaign for Treasurer and then what turned to regular payments of $6,000 every six months. Harris anticipates evidence showing that Shoffner gave orders for the Treasurer's Office to do business with Stephens.

The Prosecution links the payments from Stephens to Shoffner with the fact that they say by the end of their business together, "Steele had more than $600 million worth of bond business with the state." Twice as much, they say, as anyone else.

Harris shared with the jury that of the six payments, two happened at Shoffner's office in the State Capitol, two happened elsewhere in Little Rock and two took place at Shoffner's home in Newport, where Stephens rolled up and stuffed $6k in a pie box given to the Treasurer.

Harris told jurors the seventh extortion charge Shoffner faces stems from the last exchange when Stephens, while cooperating with FBI investigators and wearing a recording device, delivered another $6k payment stuffed inside a pie box again. Harris said a two hour conversation was recorded that jurors will hear later in the trial.

Before Harris finished her opening statement she told jurors that evidence will show that once Shoffner caught wind of an FBI investigation and Steele's involvement, Shoffner took a cellphone, the Prosecutions says was given to her by Steele, and "threw it over a bridge into water."

In their opening statement to jurors, Shoffner's attorneys questioned an apparent immunity for prosecution promised to Stephens for his cooperation with the FBI investigation against Shoffner.

Witness testimony is expected to begin Thursday morning at 9 a.m.
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