- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison on Friday following her conviction last year on federal bribery and extortion charges.

The Democrat was accused of steering state investments to a broker who gave her $36,000 in cash, some of which was delivered in a pie box. The 71-year-old resigned in 2013, days after she was arrested by FBI agents in a sting operation.

“It was wrong, it was unethical and it was a violation of the public’s trust,” Shoffner told U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes, as she read a statement apologizing for her actions.

Sentencing guidelines suggested a stiffer sentence. Holmes said Shoffner had netted little from her crimes, but because Shoffner broke the law as an elected official it was appropriate that she spend some time in prison.

Holmes said that if Shoffner were a bank teller who embezzled $36,000 as a first offense, a judge likely would sentence her to probation. But the judge also noted that if Shoffner had embezzled the amount of money the broker received in commission from the additional bond contracts, a lengthier prison sentence probably would have been handed down.

“Some term in the bureau of prisons is necessary,” Holmes said before handing down the sentence. “(Shoffner) breached the public’s trust as treasurer.”

He ordered her to report to a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, by Nov. 2.

Defense lawyer Chuck Banks asked Holmes to consider allowing Shoffner to serve part of the sentence in a halfway house or as in-home detention. Holmes refused, adding that a halfway house - given Shoffner’s age - “wouldn’t be doing her a favor.”

Shoffner cried several times through the sentencing hearing. At one point, she apologized to the people of Arkansas and to her late parents, saying she had tarnished the family name. She declined to make a statement as she left the courthouse.

Holmes ordered Shoffner to make restitution but did not impose a fine.

Banks had argued that Shoffner should receive a sentence of 12 to 18 months, with half in-home detention, because of her age. Banks also said Shoffner’s faith, her remorse and the punishment of a prosecution that she’s “already endured” should be considered.

Banks tried to paint a picture of a gullible and naive woman, noting previous testimony that she wouldn’t know a bond sale from an onion.

But Holmes noted the covert nature of Shoffner’s participation in the money exchange, including receiving money in a pie box or cigarette carton. He also noted she had tossed a cellphone she used to talk with the broker, Steele Stephens, off of a bridge and into a body of water.

Federal prosecutors had told Holmes in May that a term of 15 to nearly 20 years in prison, as suggested by sentencing guidelines, was appropriate. But in court Friday, prosecutors said they would accept a term of between about 5 and 6 ½ years.

Outside court, prosecutors said they were satisfied with the sentence handed down.

“Today’s sentence sends a strong message that both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and my office are committed to investigating and prosecuting public corruption cases,” U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer said.

Stephens was given immunity from prosecution for his cooperation with prosecutors and the FBI. Thyer said it was a hard decision, but noted the crime only involved two people - and Shoffner was an elected constitutional officer.

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