A broker testified Friday that he saw a “significant” increase in the amount of state bond business being steered his way after he began providing former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner $6,000 twice a year to help her through a difficult time in her life.
Steele Stephens said he paid Martha Shoffner $36,000 over a three year period and in return his bond business rose, adding he made about $3 million in commissions on the sales over a four year period. Stephens was working for Russellville-based St. Bernard Financial Services at that time.
Shoffner resigned May 21, 2013, after having been under investigation for more than a year because of suspect bond transactions in her office when federal authorities took her into custody at her Newport home May 18 after Stephens, who at that point was working with the FBI, delivered a $6,000 cash payment in a pie box.
Stephens has been granted immunity in return for his testimony in the trial.
Shoffner is charged with six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of receipt of bribery. She faces up 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.
Stephens testified Friday, the third day of the extortion and bribery trial, that he agreed to pay Shoffner the money because she had recently lost her apartment, her state vehicle and her mother had died.
He said two were made at the state Capitol in her office, two at her apartment in Little Rock and two were delivered to her home in Newport.
Stephens told Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Ray White he felt sorry for Shoffner, and “I figured it would probably increase the probability that I would get looked upon favorably when they started to invest.”
Stephens also testified that he purchased Shoffner a disposable cell phone, along with the minutes, because she was concerned that her personal phone was being bugged by authorities.
Friday afternoon, jurors listened to nearly two hours of a taped conversation Shoffner and Stephens had in January 2013. Steele, by that time, was already working with the FBI, and was wearing a wire during the conversation, which took place outside Shoffner’s Newport home.
Stephens said Shoffner didn’t want to talk to him inside the home because she feared it had been bugged by authorities.
On Monday, the jury is expected to hear a recorded conversation Stephens and Shoffner had in May immediately before she was taken into custody. Stephens will also likely face cross examination from Shoffner's attorney Chuck Banks, who has said Shoffner's actions did not amount to a crime.