May 19, 2013 | KATV Channel 7 News (katv.com) | JUSTIN LEWIS
Before Arkansas State Treasurer, Martha Shoffner, was put behind bars on extortion charges, it was a September 2012 that first brought her into the public eye.
Auditors found Shoffner sold premature bonds, reportedly costing the state a return of more than $430,000. Many state officials begin to wonder what may have really been going on that ultimately led to her arrest.
It may have taken multiple requests and a state approved subpoena just to get Shoffner to show up to a Legislative Joint Auditing Committee meeting in September 2012, but Saturday the investigation into her management of funds apparently caught up to her, with federal extortion charges.
“The things that were brought to legislative audit that prompted the committee’s concern were the investment practices, and the amount of money that seemed to be lost,” said Arkansas State Representative Kim Hammer about the allegations against Shoffner.
Hammer is co-chair for the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, and said he’s not sure if “misuse,” of funds is the right word to use when it comes to Shoffner’s investments. However, the committee noticed enough peculiar things that it wanted to get law enforcement involved.
“Primarily was it just poor management practices or was something else going on,” Hammer wondered.
“As a result of a committee meeting that happened last year we felt that there was enough information to turn over to the proper authorities, to at least let them take it to the next level that we as a committee could not.”
Now six months later the investigation has finally reached the tipping-point. Much of this goes back to one major moment in that 2012 meeting where one of Shoffner’s own co-workers asked for whistle-blower protection.
“I think that because of Whistle Blower Act it gave her the courage to be able to step-forward and to reveal that, at least from her perspective, things were not being handled right,” Hammer added.
Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman, Will Bond, released this statement to Channel 7 Sunday:
“Any arrest of an elected official hurts the public’s confidence in our system of government and feeds cynicism. If crimes have been committed, we trust and expect our judicial system to prosecute and punish wrongdoing. We await further details, understanding that all have the right to be presumed innocent.”
The auditing committee echoed that statement saying it will not ask for Shoffner to step down from her elected position, and it wants to let the legal system play out first.
Governor Mike Beebe’s office still said Sunday that there’s too much unknown at this point to really comment, but that no one will be appointed interim to Shoffner’s position. A spokesperson in Beebe’s office added that under state law she must be found guilty of wrongdoing before she can be ousted as treasurer.