- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented starkly different interpretations Wednesday of what it meant that former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner accepted $36,000 from a bond dealer who did a disproportionate amount of business with the state.

Shoffner, 69, is charged in a 14-count extortion and bribery indictment that followed after the FBI equipped the bond dealer, Steele Stephens, with a listening device and listened in when Stephens made $6,000 payments to Shoffner while she was still in office.

The sides selected a jury in about three hours Wednesday afternoon and gave opening statements to the panel before retiring for the day.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jana Harris said Shoffner’s office invested more than $600 million with Stephens, more than twice as much as any other bond dealer that did business with the state. In addition to the $36,000, which was paid in $6,000 increments every six months, Harris told jurors that Shoffner wore to a legislative hearing a pair of colorful designer glasses that Stephens had bought for her.

Shoffner wore wire-framed glasses in court Wednesday.

Harris told jurors that Stephens, who was granted immunity from prosecution by the government, once used a method of concealment when dropping off a payment to Shoffner.

“He put (the $6,000) in a pie box with a pie, cash rolled up and stuck in a pie box,” Harris said.

The FBI adopted the same tactic when agents wired up Stephens and had him deliver $6,000 in federal government money to Shoffner’s home.

“They used the pie box as a gimmick to irritate you,” Shoffner’s defense attorney, Chuck Banks, told the jury in his opening statement.

Banks said Shoffner, a Democrat, was targeted politically by legislators and personally by at least one person who worked for her. Banks also claimed that a legislative audit that was critical of bond trades made by Shoffner didn’t take Shoffner’s explanations into account.

“I want you to hear whether or not their audit was fair and impartial,” Banks said.

He also said Shoffner isn’t accused of using her office to steal.

“Not one dime, not a dime, was lost to the state of Arkansas during her term,” Banks said.

Harris said there would be testimony about how Shoffner’s salary - the office pays about $54,000 per year - wasn’t enough for her to make ends meet.

“It was need, not greed,” Banks said.

Banks told the panel that Shoffner should have been cited by the Arkansas Ethics Commission for not reporting that the money was a gift instead of facing federal charges.

Shoffner faces an additional 10 fraud counts for alleged misspending from her campaign account, on which she is to be tried separately.

In the indictment, Shoffner is charged with six counts of extortion under color of official right and one attempted extortion charge for each of the payments the FBI says Shoffner accepted.

The seven bribery charges cover all of the payments Shoffner received, plus the $6,000 payment the FBI said she accepted on tape in May.

The extortion charges carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. Conviction on the bribery charges would bring maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and fines of up to a $250,000.

Shoffner resigned after her arrest last year. She was first elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010.

Trial resumes at 9 a.m. Thursday, though a hearing on a procedural matter before U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes is to begin at 8:30 a.m.

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