DALLAS — Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner was accused in federal court Monday of accepting at least $36,000 of cash bribes in exchange for directing a large portion of the state's bond investment activity to a single broker.
Shoffner was released from county jail on her own recognizance after Magistrate Judge David Young signed a criminal complaint filed by the FBI charging that Shoffner had conspired to commit extortion "under color of official acts, in return for official acts as Arkansas State Treasurer" since 2009.
Young ordered Shoffner to surrender her passport and to stay away from guns and excessive amounts of alcohol.
She was arrested Saturday after the broker, serving as an FBI confidential informant, delivered a pie box containing $6,000 in $100 bills to Shoffner. The money was found in a cigarette pack when the FBI raided her home in Newport, Ark.
Shoffner told agents where to find the cash in her kitchen, the FBI affidavit said. She also admitted to taking "multiple $6,000 payments" from the broker-informant and "knew it was wrong to take the payments."
Shoffner, a former Democratic state representative, was first elected treasurer in 2006 and again in 2010. She cannot seek re-election when her second term ends in 2014.
Gov. Mike Beebe, Sen. Mark Pryor, the heads of both political parties in the state, and a number of Arkansas legislators called on Shoffner to resign her $54,000-a-year post.
"Everybody is presumed innocent, and I understand that, but there is a difference between a public official and alleged acts that are contained in that affidavit," Beebe said at a news conference following Shoffner's brief court appearance.
"It would be very hard, in my opinion, for that office to properly function under her continued leadership," he said. "I think she should resign and I think that she should resign immediately."
At least six deliveries of $6,000 in $100 and $50 bills were made to Shoffner since the payoffs began in late 2009 or mid-2010, the broker told the FBI. The informant said Shoffner asked for $1,000 a month that she needed for the Little Rock apartment.
Two of the payments occurred at the apartment, two at the State Capitol, and two at her Newport residence, said U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer.
The informant, who wore a hidden microphone during Saturday's pie-box delivery and one in January, has been given immunity in exchange for "his/her cooperation," the FBI said.
Shoffner's case will be considered by the grand jury for the Eastern District of Arkansas, which will begin its session June 4. If indicted and convicted, she could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The investigation began in January 2012 when a Treasury employee told the FBI that Shoffner had deviated from the office's practice of dividing the investment bond portfolio among 10 to 12 brokers in Arkansas. Instead, the complaint said, most of the business was shifted to a single broker.
When confronted by the employee in 2011, according to the FBI complaint, Shoffner said, "they (the other brokers) have done nothing for me."
The state's $3.27 billion investment portfolio in 2011 included $1.5 billion of federal securities, according to a September 2012 legislative audit of the Arkansas Treasury's bond investment transactions.
The report from the Division of Legislative Audit said the state purchased a significant portion of its securities from one broker, who worked for Apple Tree Investments Inc. from May 2008 to May 2009 and after that for St. Bernard Financial Services of Russellville, Ark.
The firm has denied any connection between its brokers and the Shoffner case.
The report said the companies represented by the broker sold the state $1.89 billion of federal securities between May 2008 and September 2012. The next firm accounted for purchases totaling $886 million over the period.
Legislative auditors said the state lost $58,173 in 12 bond transactions between July 2011 and May 2012 as a result of premature sales by the treasurer's office of securities with a par value of $240 million. The state lost money when brokers sold bonds before their call date. In 11 of the sales, the auditors said, the sold securities were replaced with new bonds bearing a lower interest rate.
The audit identified more than $434,000 of potential earnings that were not realized in fiscal 2010 and 2011.
The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee asked law enforcement officials in December 2012 to begin a criminal investigation into the investment choices made by Shoffner, said Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton.
"The things that were brought to legislative audit that prompted the committee's concern were the investment practices, and the amount of money that seemed to be lost," said Hammer, co-chair of the committee. "We felt that there was enough information to turn over to the proper authorities, to at least let them take it to the next level that we as a committee could not," Hammer said.