Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 17:58:47
UPDATE: Shortly before 6 p.m. today, a federal court jury returned guilty verdicts against former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner
on charges she took bribes in returns for pushing $2.5 million worth of commissions in bond purchases to broker Steele Stephens. The jury took about 3.5 hours. Reporters in the courtroom says he burst into tears at the verdict.
Shoffner and her attorneys made no comment as they left the courthouse. She remains free
n bond pending sentencing and another trial The U.S. attorney's office said it would reserve comment until tomorrow.
But the U.S. attorney did provide a summary of the case.
The 14 counts covered six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of bribery. But it all boiled down to money passed to Stephens over the course of four years when he wound up with more than a half-billion in bond business, far more than any other broker. He testified under an immunity agreement that he'd paid $6,000 to Shoffner on six occasions, the last while wired by the FBI. She was arrested moments after the last exchange.
Shoffner offered no defense witnesses and her attorneys held to their story that Shoffner might have been broken state ethics laws by taking illegal cash gifts and campaign contributions, but what she'd done didn't constitute bribery and wasn't a federal offense. No word yet if the judge has ruled on a defense motion that the prosecutors hadn't proved a federal crime because the payments weren't in interstate commerce. The government argued that the state investments included federal money and were used for securities from other states.
Shoffner, 69, could face 20 years in prison on each charge, but sentencing will follow a probation office report. She also is awaiting trial on separate federal charges of converting campaign contributions to personal expenses on her credit card.
Shoffner, a Democrat, resigned shortly after her arrest and gubernatorial appointee Charles Robinson has been serving in the interim. Four candidates have filed for the office in this year's election. Shoffner is a former state representative. Her favoritism in bond dealing was first reporter here in 2011.
Other reporting followed, as well as a critical legislative audit. But other than suspicion, all of that turned up no criminal violations. Federal investigators began talking to Stephens, however, and he began cooperating. He told of cash payments, but investigators had no proof of that until his secretly taped foray to her Newport home with a pie box stuffed with an apple pie and a $6,0000 roll of hundreds last May. She was arrested that day, a Saturday, and resigned the next week.
WRITTEN EARLIER TODAY:
Defense attorneys called no witnesses this morning in the trial of former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner
on charges that she took cash from bond broker Steele Stephens
who scored $2.5 million worth of commissions on state bond business while she was in office.
The defense has argued that Stephens' cash payments to Shoffner — the last recorded on a hidden video camera when he was cooperating with the FBI — were perhaps improper campaign contributions, but not bribes and only gifts from a friend to a politician with money troubles. The defense has also argued — and the judge has said he'll consider — that interstate commerce wasn't involved in the payments and thus they were not within the jurisdiction of federal prosecutors. Stephens, who's received inmunity for his testimony, has not called the payments bribes, but said he had expected they'd help his business and they did.
Closing arguments began at11 a.m. Jury deliberations began shortly before 2 p.m.
The prosecution asked the jury to use common sense. Money paid. Commissions zoomed. The defense acknowledged that Shoffner did something that was wrong, but insisted the money had no link to state business. No state money was lost, the defense said.
UPDATE: About 3:30 p.m., parties returned to the courtroom, a suggestion that a verdict might be near. But Brian Chilson reports that they convened so the judge could take a question from the jury. Then they came back with their unanimous verdicts around 5:45
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 16:29:00
The Tuesday night line is open. Final notes:
* SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT SUSPENSION IN BRYANT
: The Bryant School District
issued a news release today that Superintendent Randy Rutherford
had been placed on administrative leave for at least the next 30 days. No explanation given.
* LOOK WHO'S A LABOR BOSS: I've already said plenty
about Asa Hutchinson's smearing of school teacher
s — at least those who go to Arkansas Education Association
conventions — for an endorsement of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross
. In a news release,
Hutchinson spoke derisively of labor unions and their "liberal" ideas. He commented:
Arkansas deserves better than Congressman Ross putting the interests of Nancy Pelosi, President Obama and union bosses ahead of Arkansas workers.”
I don't happen to believe union membership makes you a bad person. Even union "bosses" have mothers. And, yes, even fathers. Take Asa's youngest son, Seth
, as shown on the website of the Texas State Employees Union, Communications Workers of American Local 6186
Wrong Hutchinson running for governor.
* THE ARKANSAS LEGISLATURE IS WRAPPING IT UP:
The Revenue Stabilization Act is whipping through the legislature today. Could the fun crowd could be gone soon..
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 16:27:00
I've reported before
on both Circuit Judge Mike Maggio's
shocking reduction of a $5.2 million verdict against a nursing home to $1 million and the heavy contribution nursing home sources made in his initial campaign finance filing for Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Maggio dropped out of the Court of Appeals race after reports that he was under investigation by the Arkansas judicial ethics agency for comments on Tiger Droppings, an LSU fan website. They were racist, sexist, homophobic and juvenile. They also included a revelation about a confidential court matter, the adoption of a chld in Arkansas by Charlize Theron.
Blue Hog Report, which provided the first public reports on the specific contents of Maggio's remarks and whose sleuthing indicated that Maggio was the author of the remarks posted by "geauxtiger," has a further report today
on Maggio's nursing home connection.
Boiled down: Seven nursing home PACs, all linked to Michael Morton
, who managed the Greenbrier nursing home that benefited from Maggio's reduction of a damage award, were established about the same time by the same person, Chris Stewart. They have primarily given money to Maggio. The seven PACs received $21,000 in all on the same day, July 8. That happens to be the same day Maggio ordered a process that eventually led to the $4.2 million reduction in the verdict against the Morton-managed nursing home. Eventually, the PACs contributed to Maggio, with a significant number of contributions coming on the same day, Jan. 28.
Blue Hog looks at the totality of related parties and events and sees an untwoard appearance. One man's opinion.
It's worth a reminder that Maggio's Conway friend and occasional companion on the campaign trail at Republican committee events, Rhonda Wood,
was unopposed for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court
. She got even more money from the nursing home industry, including Michael Morton affiliates, than Maggio. About $70,000, or more than half of the money she reported having received in her first finance support, came from that industry. Wood and Maggio were helped in fund-raising
by former Sen. Gilbert Baker
, a $132,00-a-year taxpayer-financed lobbyist for the University of Central Arkansas
. Baker, before he stopped talking to me, said his bundling of money for these and Republican legislative candidates was done on his own time. UCA President Tom Courtway
said Baker had a constitutional right to do this. Baker has long been associated with efforts to curb damage lawsuits and even was paid while in the legislature by a conservative PAC for shadowy political work he's never fully disclosed. He also has a private consulting firm, still listed in good standing on secretary of state records, that reportedly does government related work. His after-hours must be busy.
Another one man's opinion: Something is rotten in Faulkner County.
At least Maggio won't be sitting on nursing home appeals now. Wood will, unless she decides appearances might dictate recusal.
More Arkansas Blog
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 15:37:00
The FX cable network has spent the last few weeks dropping mini-trailers for their new TV adaptation
of the classic 1996 Coen Bros. crime dramedy "Fargo"
on Youtube. The Arkansas connection: the show stars everybody's favorite antique-furniture-hating
redneck made good, Billy Bob Thornton.
Thornton plays the show's villain, a dangerous man named Lorne Malvo
. The 10-episode capsule series, which is executive produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, premieres April 15 on FX.
Above is one of the mini-trailers which features Thornton's character in all his weird, bloody-steak-eating, bangs-having glory. You can watch the other 10 teaser trailers here.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 10:25:00
Continuing its piecemeal approach to leaking details about its 2014 lineup, Riverfest has today added Chicago
, Three Days Grace
and Lee Brice
to this year's schedule. They'll join Hank Williams, Jr.
, making for one of the strangest festival green rooms imaginable. This year's festival will be held May 23-25, and three-day passes will be onsale at half-price ($20) starting April 1.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 10:19:00
The feature adaptation of Arkansas Times
contributing editor Mara Leveritt's account
of the West Memphis Three case hits theaters May 9.
More Rock Candy