Judge Rejects Guilty Plea From Ex-Arkansas treasurer

May 31, 2013

U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer speaking with reporters outside the federal courthouse in Little Rock.
Credit Michael Hibblen/ KUAR

Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner and prosecutors had agreed on terms of a plea deal, but Friday afternoon it was rejected by a federal judge.

“There were questions that I wasn’t comfortable with,” Shoffner told reporters as she left the courthouse in Little Rock.

Judge Leon Holmes questioned her during the hearing, asking if she understood the terms of the plea. She said “Yes.”

He also asked if Shoffner had taken the payments from a bond broker as alleged by prosecutors. She said “Yes, but it was offered. I didn’t demand it.”

Shoffner also told the judge that she didn’t intentionally direct much of Arkansas bond business to a single broker because of the cash payments, which totaled more than $36,000.

Because that conflicted with what prosecutors alleged, Judge Holmes said he could not accept Shoffner’s plea.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer told reporters “I can’t comment on what was going through her mind today. On one level, I’m certainly disappointed the plea didn’t go through because I certainly anticipated that it would.”

Thyer said his office is preparing to present the case to a grand jury.

“We will proceed to indict Ms. Shoffner starting next week. We anticipate that in addition to the charge that we had alleged in the information that was filed today that there will be additional charges as well,” Thyer said.

Shoffner’s attorney Chuck Banks says he was also caught off guard by what happened in court.

“I was surprised, but I’m pleased with the court’s inquiry and I’m pleased with her decision,” Banks said.

“I know she’s very embarrassed by all this, but this is an opportunity for her to continue to exercise her constitutional right to test the proof, so we’ll probably go from there. We’ll probably have more to say tomorrow.”

At one point outside the courthouse, Shoffner also said, "I just want to tell the people of Arkansas that I apologize."

Prosecutors say she took six cash payments $6,000 each, which were to cover her living expenses while in Little Rock.

She has a home in Newport, where the final payment was allegedly delivered in a pie box, with the FBI informant wearing a microphone.

Under the plea that the judge rejected Friday, Shoffner could have faced a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.