LITTLE ROCK — Former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner pleaded innocent to federal bribery and extortion charges at her arraignment Thursday in U.S. District Court.
The former two-term state treasurer said little in her appearance before U.S. Magistrate Joe Volpe, only echoing defense lawyer Chuck Banks’ response to Volpe’s inquiry as to her plea: "Yes, not guilty," Shoffner said.
FBI agents arrested Shoffner on May 18 at her Newport home. Authorities said she received kickbacks from a broker to whom she allegedly steered state bond business. She first appeared in court on May 21 and resigned as treasurer the next day.
A federal grand jury returned a 14-count indictment against Shoffner on June 5, less than a week after a judge rejected her guilty plea to a single federal corruption charge when she refused to say she took cash payments in exchange for performance of her official duties.
Shoffner now faces six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of receipt of bribery. She is accused of accepting kickbacks totaling $36,000. Each extortion charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Volpe set a July 29 trial date in the case.
Shoffner told reporters outside the federal courthouse that she was looking forward to her day in court.
"We’re just moving forward," she said.
When asked why she could not accept the guilty plea last month, she said "there were certain things that were brought up that I couldn’t plead to." Reporters asked her to elaborate, but Banks quickly ushered her to a waiting vehicle.
In late May, Gov. Mike Beebe appointed Charles Robinson, former director of the state Division of Legislative Audit, to serve the remainder of Shoffner’s term, which ends in January 2015.
State law prohibits Robinson from running for the office at the end of the term.