LITTLE ROCK — The jury in former Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner’s bribery and extortion trial heard a recording Friday in which Shoffner tells a broker that she lied under oath about receiving money from him and will take the truth to her grave.
Shoffner is accused of accepting $36,000 in bribes from broker Steele Stephens and in return steering a disproportionate amount of the state’s investment business to him. Her lawyer says she accepted gifts from Stephens but that they were not bribes and that Stephens did not received anything in return.
On Friday, the jury in Shoffner’s trial in U.S. District Court in Little Rock heard a recording of a Jan. 19, 2013, conversation between Shoffner and Stephens made via a recording device concealed on Stephens’ person by the FBI.
The conversation took place outside the former Democratic treasurer’s home in Newport. In the recording, Shoffner says she wanted to meet with Stephens outdoors because of fear that her house may be bugged.
Stephens is heard in the recording telling Shoffner he will pretend to be a contractor looking at her house, in case anyone sees them. He also asks Shoffner, “You ain’t talked to anybody about me?”
“Huh-uh,” Shoffner says
“You gotta take that s—t to your grave, you know what I mean?” Stephens says.
“You think I won’t?” Shoffner replies.
Shoffner goes on to discuss testimony that she gave in a legislative committee hearing, while under oath.
“They asked me if I’d taken anything and I said no, and I’ll go to my f—-ing grave with that,” she says.
“I will too, because the only people that know about any money exchanging hands between us are you and me, and that’s it,” Stephens says. “I’m not going to say s—t about s—t.”
Later in the recording, Stephens asks, “So the cash I gave, there’s no record of that?”
“No,” Shoffner says.
“Good,” Stephens says.
Stephens asks Shoffner how she disposed of the cash, noting that spending $100 bills can raise suspicions. Shoffner says she disposed of it in various ways, commenting that the people who do yard work for her “don’t want checks.”
Stephens says later in the recording that “people can insinuate, but no one has any proof.”
“Mm-hmm. No one knows,” Shoffner says.
Stephens then says that people can try to check on whether he “tried to give somebody money—” and Shoffner cuts him off.
“Don’t say it. Don’t ever say it in terms,” she says.
Shoffner expresses concerns about being observed several times during the conversation, noting when a vehicle passes by and at one point saying to Stephens, “I just hope you weren’t traced here.”
Shoffner also complains about expenses she has incurred and says one expense was having to “pay off eastern Arkansas blacks.”
Stephens asks why she did that, and Shoffner says that “they haul and all that.”
“Haul them to the polls?” Stephens asks.
“Mm-hmm,” Shoffner says. “But you never know if they’re doing it or not.”
“You got to have the black vote for sure,” Stephens says.
Shoffner also complains in the recording that Autumn Sanson, her chief investment officer, and Karla Shepard, her former chief of staff, have “trumped up” accusations against her. She says they plotted to get her to resign and deny business to Stephens.
She also comments that her staff members liked to “party” with brokers and that “they were not running a very good ship.”
“It’s a known fact it was a little sleazy,” she says.
Sanson testified on Thursday that brokers commonly gave gifts to employees in the treasurer’s office, such as flowers, gift cards, turkeys, hams and tickets to concerts and ball games.
Stephens says in the recording that Sanson and Shepard were responsible for making decisions on bond transactions, and Shoffner agrees.
“I was never in the loop, ever,” Shoffner says.
Stephens was on the witness stand while the tape was played for the jury. Earlier Thursday, the prosecution presented several emails regarding bond transactions and asked Stephens if they showed that Sanson sought approval from Shoffner before approving transactions. Stephens testified that they did.
Shoffner’s lawyer, Chuck Banks, said in opening statements Wednesday that the defense would show that Shoffner lacked the financial expertise to carry out the scheme the government alleges.
Near the end of the recording, Stephens jokes, “I didn’t bring you a pie this time.”
Federal authorities arrested Shoffner at her home on May 18 after Stephens delivered $6,000 cash to her in a pie box. She resigned three days later.
Shoffner is charged with six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of receipt of bribery. If convicted, she faces up to to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each extortion count and up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each bribery count.
She also has been charged with 10 counts of mail fraud is scheduled to stand trial on those charges March 31.