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Travis McConnell serves up the good stuff at the Bernice Garden Farmers Market.
Mylo Coffee Co. does savory just as well as sweet.
Late night edition, tell us where you're eatin' this week.
"Beautiful Uprising" reception tonight, talk by artist Saturday.
Reception for artist is tonight.
I had a nice visit with Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood last week. /more/
If you are a beltway Republican, no antidote for the blues matches extended congressional hearings on a real or imagined national horror — that is, if it might heap dishonor on a Democratic administration. If Hillary Clinton will be the dishonoree, so much the better. /more/
Here's the document. Details:
Shoffner was busted Saturday after receiving the latest in a series of $6,000 payments from a confidential source wired by the FBI (an unidentified securities dealer apparently given immunity from prosecution for cooperation). The source told the FBI he had paid Shoffner a total of $36,000 in six payments every six months, plus almost $5,000 in cash for a campaign event, in return for an increasing share of the state bond business.
Shoffner got several of the payments rolled up and sealed in a pie box. A new $6,000 payment was delivered to
Shoffner that way Saturday by the source, who recorded their conversation. FBI moved in and arrested her after the transfer, finding the $6,000, plus some $100 bills left over from an earlier payment. The investigation began in January 2012, based on a tip to the FBI from an office employee, many months before trading activities came under scrutiny of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.
The FBI complaint says Shoffner admitted wrongdoing during the arrest and helped them find the money she'd received illicitly.
Gov. Mike Beebe, like Shoffner, a Democrat, indicates he'll have a statement at 2 p.m. on his thoughts on whether Shoffner should continue in office. I trust the answer is a ringing no. She's to appear shortly for a bond hearing in Magistrate David Young's court and federal officials will discuss the charge afterward at a news conference. The Arkansas Republican Party has, naturally, called for Shoffner's resignation.
A comment from Heath Abshure, director of the state Securities Department:
Just read the Criminal Complaint. We will certainly be looking into whether the payments were made with the knowledge of a broker-dealer firm or whether the payments were being made by an agent without the knowledge of the firm.
The Arkansas Times published Oct. 20, 2011, the first account of a a heavy concentration of treasurer's office business with Steele Stephens, a salesman with a small firm, St. Bernard Financial Services, based in Russellville. He and the firm have denied any wrongdoing in all public statements to date and the confidential source so far has not been identified. Also in reporting in October 29011, Stephens said he'd been one of three sponsors of the 2010 campaign finance party mentioned in the charge. He never denied contributing to that. What appears to be amiss is that Shoffner converted the money to her own use, not party expenses.
Following is my shorthand of notes from David Koon from the complaint:
The FBI developed a confidential source in January 2012. An employe of the office cooperated with FBI as confidential source. FBI was advised Shoffner was using one broker over others, not following historical investment practices. Confidential source stated Arkansas holds $3.5 to $4 billion portfolio, including $1.5 billion in bonds. Source said historically treasurer's office had used about 10 brokers to execute bond orders. Source stated distribution had been relatively even. Mid-2011, source noted a major shift in allocation to one particular broker. Confidential source 2 stated that a confidential source, a broker not otherwise identified, invested the largest portion of state's bond portfolio.
In 2011, confidential source 2 confronted Shoffner about apparent favoritism. Shoffner responded, "They've done nothing for me." Source 2 also confronted Source 1, the broker, about apparent favoritism. And the source said, "I have been very good to Martha."
On Jan. 18, 2013, the broker said he/she [the construction used in the complaint] had given two campaign contributions to Shoffner. First was a $2,000 contribution at a campaign event. The second was in the form of a campaign watch paty sponsorship in the form of $4,700 cash covering all expenses related to watch party.
The day before the broker was interviewed by the FBI, the source was contacted by employee of treasurer's office and instructed to go to back door at 11 a.m. Source was met by another employee and Shoffner. After employee left, Shoffner told source, "You gave me no cash and you just sponsored the watch party." It became clear to source that Shoffner kept the cash he provided the night of the watch party event.
In the fall of 2009, the broker was asked by Shoffner for larger gifts. She was "comfortable" asking for larger gifts because the source had been giving Shoffner smaller gifts prior to that time.
In 2009, Shoffner asked confidential source to purchase property for her in Little Rock. Source did not do so because Shoffner would be living on property and her name would be on paperwork for purchase of the property. After source didn't purchase property, Shoffner wanted $1,000 a month to pay her rent in Little Rock. The source didn't think it would be a good idea to meet on a monthly basis because it would look suspicious. Source recommended that they meet every six months. Source said the arrangement was for the duration of Shoffner's term in office. The source remembered six payments, starting in late 2009 or mid-2010. The source recalled payments were made, two each, at the state Capitol, her home in Newport and apartment in Little Rock, the most recent last December. That amounted to six payments of $6,000 each, in addition to the watch money party. The payments were generally in $100 bills.
In 2012, the source begin placing the payment — rolled up and sealed — in a pie box. This was done on the last two payments, both at Shoffner's Newport home.
The source began receiving more of the state's bond business after the source began making the payments.
FROM A CONSENSUALLY RECORDED CONVERSATION:
On January 19, 2013, Source met with Shoffner in Newport. They discussed the $6,000 payments. She said she had not told anyone about them. She said she told Legislative Audit in Sept. 2012 she didn't accept anything from Source 1. She said nothing in her finances would show anything different. The source asked if any other broker was doing what the source was doing. She said no other broker paid cash to her. Records show no other broker enjoyed such an increase in business.
The source talked to Shoffner about spending the cash. She said no one had questioned her about her spending of $100 bills.
May 9, Shoffner called the source, who recorded the conversation. She inquired about obtaining a loan to buy property next to her house in Newport. She wondered if someone else could bid on the property and keep her name secret.
The source suggested a meeting May 18 at Shoffner's house in Newport. Shoffner agreed to the meeting, approximately six months after the last meeting. The source took $6,000 provided by the FBI to make another payment similar to those made before.
May 18, the source and Shoffner met in Newport. The source was wired to transmit or record their conversation. The $6,000 was rolled up and placed in a pie box. During the meeting, the source gave the box to Shoffner. After the source left, the FBI executed the search warrant. The $6,000 was located in a cigarette pack in Shoffner's kitchen. She told agents where she'd placed the money.
Shoffner in an interview admitted to receiving $6,000 payments. She still had some from the last payment and provided it. She admitted that she knew it was wrong.
The charge said she conspired to extort money as a public official and transferred state business to the source in return.
Does Martha Shoffner have any friends? Former employees with unhappy tales of their time in her office would be surprised.
The tales are mounting. Hurled phones. Employees sent on personal errands with the office credit card, including to fetch meals for her dog. But the core issue is more likely to be along the lines of what one former employee told me — campaign finance reports lacking disclosure of significant PAC contributions. The contributions were legal. The question would be why any were omitted and whether the money was accounted for. This line of inquiry was suggested to federal investigators by the employee.
BTW: Chuck Banks confirms via e-mail that he is representing Shoffner. He said he was too busy at the moment to talk. Shoffner's at the courthouse, awaiting court scheduling before Magistrate David Young.
When last I spoke with the office of the U.S. attorney, neither a court appearance nor official news conference had been scheduled today on Shoffner's arrest on a charge related to receiving financial benefits for her public service. Nor had I had been able to get a response to the question of why the Saturday arrest. She wouldn't appear to be a flight risk. Surprise arrests are sometimes undertaken to preserve evidence. Two days in the slammer might make a 68-year-old woman prone to deal.
I wrote former U.S. attorney Chuck Banks, now one of the city's most successful criminal defense lawyers, to see if he was representing Shoffner. He didn't respond. But the Democrat-Gazette reports this morning that his name turned up on the county jail visitor log on Sunday. Banks, you might recall, defended Lu Hardin in his federal prosecution. It ended in a plea deal, but no jail time for the former UCA president, a former legislator in a position of public trust convicted of fraud and money laundering.
Employees of Shoffner are whispering that, despite the fact she's been under scrutiny for months, that they didn't believe she'd hired a lawyer until very recently, perhaps this weekend. If so, it was a decision about as wise as her decision not to appear to answer a legislative subpoena over her audit. She's short of financial resources, employees say, but legal representation is something you can't afford to skimp on.
A personal assistant to Shoffner told me the office would be open for business as usual Monday. We still don't know whether the charge will be linked to her investment decisions, or her messy campaign finances or both. Her ability to conduct business without ill appearance will necessarily be damaged by being under federal charge. Pressure on her to resign will be enormous, however firm and perhaps even credible her protests of innocence might be. The difference here, as compared with say the prosecution of Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, was that the case against him was wholly unrelated to his public office.
Employees that I've reached or been quoted by others, to a person, were caught unawares by Saturday's arrest. It occurs to me that the drama might encourage others to be cooperative, if others are in a position to do so.
I thought this was interesting — a Facebook post by former Republican Rep. Ed Garner making the unexceptional but worthy point that innocence attaches to all until proof of guilt and, moreover, that state investments for which Shoffner have been criticized aren't necessarily so readily judged. It is not a crime to sell a bond before maturity, for example. Also, there've been some gross misrepresentations already in this case by people nominally thought to be nonpartisan evaluators. I explored that at some length here when the increasingly political legislative audit division publicized faulty comparisons between treasury and retirement system investments to help Republican legislators build a case against Shoffner.
I'd add that it is not a crime to do business with friends or for a state official's office to do business with a campaign contributor (statutory law and sleaze being two different things). We'd be a nation of political felons if that were so. It's the direct quid pro quo that's the problem. Sometimes hard to prove; sometimes not. Soon we'll have more details to judge. IF the case involves benefits from people with whom Shoffner did state business, it's worth noting that no relevant names have turned up on jail dockets just yet.
UPDATE: Just heard a withering allegation from a former Shoffner employee about her relationship with certain people who did business with the office. If provable ... curtains. Her management of office staff is going to be an ugly tale, too.
Other items this Monday morning:
* GUN HAPPY: NRA blog reports news that Remington Arms is expanding its ammunition plant in Lonoke. It's a $32 million project.
Here's what you get when you combine "Rockin' Robin" with "Folsom Prison Blues" and "The Joker." What say you — abomination or finger-snapping good time?
The mash comes courtesy of DJ Faroff.
I'll have more on my impressions on this year's festival tomorrow. In the meantime, here are this year's prize winners.
Oxford American Best Southern Film Award ($10,000 prize money): "Bayou Maharajah"
Heifer International Social Impact Film Award ($10,000 prize money): "These Birds Walk"
Golden Rock Narrative Film: "Short Term 12"
Golden Rock Documentary Film: "Dirty Wars"
Extraordinary Courage in Filmmaking: Jeremy Scahill ("Dirty Wars")
Arkansas Times Audience Award: "Bridegroom"
Made in Arkansas Best Feature: "45 RPM"
Made in Arkansas Best Short: "The Discontentment of Ed Telfair"
Made in Arkansas Best Director: Mark Thiedeman for "Last Summer"
Made in Arkansas Best Actor: Liza Burns in "45 RPM"
World Shorts: "When We Lived in Miami"
A previous version of this post incorrectly listed the World Shorts winner as "When We Live in Miami."
Arkansas is full of talented people, and we ran across yet another one of them last night: the thoroughly-hilarious writer and video blogger Joseph Birdsong. In the video seen above, Birdsong, who was born in Arkansas, schools out-of-staters on some skewed facts about the Natural State, including: "People in Arkansas are born with the ability to recognize 30 different kinds of roadkill based on scent alone," and "The first gay person to ever come to Arkansas was George Takei, and that was because he was forced here to live in an Arkansas Japanese internment camp during World War II." Just remember, he's laughing WITH us, not AT us. Okay, he's laughing AT us as well, but a great sense of humor covers a multitude of sins.
If you're looking for a good laugh, you can check out almost 200 of Birdsong's quirky videos on his Youtube site, cupofjoeshow.com. He's also got a site where he blogs, a very funny Twitter account. and a video blog for My Damn Channel's Answerly page where he talks about sex and relationships.
Luke, you should probably read up on the Hobbs Act if you work in the…
She's toast. Glad she got to spend the weekend in jail.
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