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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Candidate urges no-gifts policy for treasurer's office

Posted By on Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 6:31 AM

click to enlarge NO GIFTS: Dennis Milligan
  • NO GIFTS: Dennis Milligan
Dennis Milligan, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, says if he's elected it would be office policy that neither he nor anyone working for the office would be able to accept gifts from people who do business with the office.

Milligan is capitalizing on the trial of former treasurer Martha Shoffner, who received thousands in cash gifts from Steele Stephens, a broker who made $2.5 million in commissions from deals with the office. Other office employees said they received ham, turkey and tickets to sporting events and concerts from people who did business with the office.

"More than $65 million a day flows through that office. It not only looks bad for office employees to be accepting gifts from brokers and others the office does business with but it is just wrong" Milligan said. "When elected, I will institute a 'no gifts' policy on my first day in office. This public office has been tainted with deceit and corruption, and I will take every step necessary to restore the people's trust in this elected position again." 

Good policy, but …… The $36,000 in gifts Steele Stephens made to Shoffner were illegal under state ethics laws. She should have reported them, but didn't. Milligan may be onto something on employees, though. Help me, someone. Are there no prohibitions now on bestowing of meals, trips, hams and tickets by state vendors on state employees? (UPDATE: Same rules as applied to elected officials. No gifts are allowed for a public servant doing his or her job. But definition of "gift" doesn't include items valued at $100 or less. so, yes, they can rake in freebies to a point. That ought to be fixed.

Milligan's Republican opponent is Duncan Baird. Karen Sealy Garcia is the Democratic candidate. Chris Hayes is running as a Libertarian.

Shoffner's trial on extortion charges is expected to be completed today. Can her attorneys persuade a jury that cash gifts were just smelly actions of a friend helping a friend in need, or a crime? The most interesting element of coverage today was a remark from Judge Leon Holmes that said defense attorneys had raised interesting questions of federal jurisdiction in the matter and that he might take briefs on the point if a verdict goes against Shoffner. From Stephens Media's account:

Defense attorney Grant Ballard then moved for acquittal, arguing that interstate commerce was not involved, no federal money was involved and no specific quid-pro-quo agreement existed between Shoffner and Stephens, so the requirements for federal extortion and bribery charges had not been met.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti argued that interstate commerce was affected by the bond trades that Shoffner allowed Stephens to conduct, that the money the state treasurer’s office uses for investments includes some federal funds, and that Shoffner did approach Stephens with a request for financial help which he then provided and for which he received increased business and, consequently, commissions.

U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes said he would take the arguments under advisement and revisit them in the event of a guilty verdict.

Shoffner faces additional federal charges for converting campaign contributions to personal use.

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