LITTLE ROCK, AR – Monday (3/10) a federal jury watched a FBI video recording of money delivered in a pie box to former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner.
Shoffner’s accused of steering state business toward one broker, Steel Stephens, who paid her $36,000 in increments of $6,000 delivered every six months.
Stephens admitted to paying Shoffner in those increments because monthly deliveries “would look bad.”
Steele Stephens testified he began working with the FBI in January of 2013. He said he was promised full Federal immunity from any charges for payments he gave to Shoffner in exchange for his cooperation with the FBI.
The video shown Monday, recorded by Stephens, documents the last payment on May 18, 2013 when Stephens delivered $6,000 inside a pie-box to Shoffner at her home in Newport. The recording device and money were provided by the FBI.
The video was recorded from a first-person (Stephens’) view. It shows him walking toward Shoffner’s door holding the pie box. After Shoffner tells Stephens she swore off sweets just the night before, she asks if the pie is chocolate, Stephens confirms and sets it down on the kitchen counter. Stephens asked Shoffner to open it and see what’s inside but she doesn’t right away.
The two begin what would turn out to be an hour long conversation ranging from Shoffner’s new house, their business, to reporters hounding the Treasurer’s Office for answers.
In the video Shoffner is seen and heard addressing Stephens’ place among other broker’s doing business with the State. She says to Stephens, “You’re still the highest,” and “I just want you to get in there and get the best bid.”
Also in the video, Shoffner suggests Stephens get a new phone — one like the one he gave her. She told Stephens that when she got nervous about everything, “I threw that SOB out the window” and into the water while driving on a bridge.
In the video Shoffner tells Stephens she was asked, during an investigation, if she ever received anything from him and told them no, telling Stephens “and I’ll take that to the f****** grave.”
Through the duration of the hour long recording, the two never mention the cash inside the pie box, only referring to it at the end when Stephens insists she open the box and recognize what’s inside, the $6,000, ensuring that she not throw it away or let the landscapers see it if she were to offer them some pie.
While on the stand following the video being played, Assistant US Attorney John Write asked why, as seen in the video, the two thought it was so important that no one know what they were doing?
“Because it was illegal.” Stephens responded.
Martha Shoffner’s defense attorney, Chuck Banks, cross-examined Stephens who testified that he wouldn’t have done all that (wearing the wire, record video, etc.) without FBI influence.
Stephens testified that Shoffner didn’t know a bond trade “from an onion” and that the $6k payments didn’t directly have anything to do with specific trades.
During Banks’ questioning Stephens testified to the jury that he didn’t think what they were doing was a federal crime, just that he knew it was wrong. He said he only gave her the money because he felt sorry for her, despite testifying during the prosecutor’s direct when he was asked if the payments influenced his state inventory of $600 million he said, “I’m sure it did.”
Stephens testified that he did $2 billion worth of trade with the State of Arkansas in four years.
There were spectators in the audience Monday that said they aren’t buying the idea that the payments had nothing to do with Stephens exponential rise in state business.
“Apparently Mr. Stephens is the government’s smoking gun witness in all this,” Jay Flack said. “If you pay just primary attention to his testimony it does not sound good for the defendant.”
Flack’s wife Mary sat in as well and referred to Shoffner saying, “I just resent people that have other people’s money and have under the table deals in the way this is being presented.”
A former employee of Shoffner’s, Hunter Johnson, testified that at the time he “couldn’t justify doing trades” with Steele Stephens but would anyway because of resistance from Shoffner.
Richard Weiss, the Director of Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration testified that he agreed it was a good idea to ratchet down the ever increasing investments the State had with St. Bernard (the firm Stephens worked for).
Mike Olson, a bond trader with CL King in New York, testified that the commission Stephens received from a $100 million bond trade was $110,000.
The prosecution finished their case against Shoffner with two people from the FBI, an agent with the investigation and an expert witness, an FBI Forensic Accountant.
The Accountant, Katherine Black, broke down for the jury an analysis of this case documenting a steady rise Stephens had of business inventory with the state. It started in 2009 with less than $100 million but ended in 2012 with more than $600 million. She testified the second highest inventory any other broker had was less than $200 million.
Black also showed how statements Shoffner submitted, that were supposed to show gifts of more than $100, had nothing on them. She says there were no gift cards or phones, which testimony showed were given to her. She also pointed out how there were no $6,000 payments listed.
The defense will begin their case Tuesday morning.
If you would like to learn new developments about the case, in real time, follow Josh Berry on Twitter @_joshberry.