Legislative Audit's secrets on Martha Shoffner, Lonnie Parker | Arkansas Blog

Friday, September 20, 2013

Legislative Audit's secrets on Martha Shoffner, Lonnie Parker

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 7:09 AM

click to enlarge AUDITING THE AUDITORS: Martha Shoffner wants to see their papers.
  • AUDITING THE AUDITORS: Martha Shoffner wants to see their papers.
I note today that lawyers for former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Legislative Audit to obtain working papers of an audit of Shoffner's office.

I've tried for months to get these same documents and got the same run-around they got from Audit's chief counsel, Frank Arey, a smart fellow but a dedicated partisan Republican of long standing. First the excuse was that, though the audit had been completed and discussed, it had not been formally presented to the committee. What does "presented" mean? Good question and you'll see shortly it is not a novel excuse. Then, when it was presented, Arey claimed he could not release the working papers because the matter remained under law enforcement investigation, presumably referring to Shoffner's pending trial on federal charges for taking cash from a bond salesman who did a great amount of business with her state office.

The problem I see, and which was cited by Shoffner's attorney, is that Audit is not a law enforcement agency and it is, in any case, no longer investigating Shoffner. The exemption for records applies to "undisclosed" investigations and also, I believe, is meant to apply to the investigating agencies, not just any agency that might have records related to a particular person. We'll see what a court says next week.

Why do Shoffner's attorneys want the records? I believe it's because they suspect that the audit was instigated and orchestrated (including some misleading financial figures prominently displayed at the public meeting) by Republican opponents of Shoffner, particularly audit committee co-chair Sen. Bryan King. Internal e-mails on the meetings at which Shoffner made a fool of herself might be interesting. And important in a broader sense, too. Audit enjoys a good reputation for accounting rigor and objectivity. But if it becomes a tool for partisan controllers, it will suffer. Much as Shoffner earned the shaming she got for her no-show and then bad-show at audit committee meetings, there were elements of the presentation in which her inquisitors misused financial data (comparing investment return on the treasurer's short-term investments to the teacher retirement system's different practices, for example) to improve a case that was already suspicious enough.

The audit itself and Shoffner's behavior produced no portion of the federal criminal case. Yes, as first reported here, she did a suspiciously large amount of business with Steele Stephens, the security salesman who sources say was the cooperating federal witness who delivered cash to Shoffner while wired by the FBI. Yes, some bonds were sold prior to maturity on the bet — bad it turned out — that profit-taking made better sense than holding the bonds.  It's worth noting, though, that neither salesman favoritism nor a bad investment call  — fair for criticism though they are — are criminal acts.

Now for more on Legislative Audit's secrets: I've been wrangling again with Audit for working papers on the genesis of an element of its special audit of Medicaid that was delivered to legislators last February, much discussed and then formed the basis for a new state law that prohibits Medicaid payments to anyone convicted of a sex-related offense. The audit targeted Dr. Lonnie Joseph Parker, a Hope physician who's now sued over the law. The law impacted exactly one person — Parker, who served a federal sentence for possession of child pornography, the lowest level of sex offense and a crime he still insists he's innocent of. Why did Legislative Audit go looking for sex offenders after not having done so before? Parker had been receiving Medicaid for at least six years, about $75,000 a year. Was it a competitor who complained? Working papers might show. Roger Norman, director of Legislative Audit, has refused my FOI request for the documents. Reason: The audit has not been "presented" to the committee yet. It may not be "presented" until at least November, eight months after it was released to legislators and the public and formed the basis for a law that took away 75 percent of Parker's practice, which primarily serves poor people. It seems to me that an investigation that targeted a single person and  prompted a law stripping that person of his livelihood should be open to public inspection seven months later. Before too long, I imagine Parker's attorney might be joining Shoffner's in court in search of a little sunshine.

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