Former Arkansas state treasurer pleads not guilty


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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Former Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner pleaded not guilty Thursday to mail fraud charges alleging that she misspent campaign funds _ counts that won't be part of her upcoming bribery and extortion trial.

Shoffner, a Democrat, didn't speak during her arraignment in federal court on the new charges, 10 counts of mail fraud. The charges allege that she misspent $9,800 in campaign funds on clothing, cosmetics and other personal items. The judge set a March 31 trial date.

Shoffner is scheduled to stand trial Monday on the bribery and extortion charges. In that case, she is accused of steering state business to a bond broker in exchange for $36,000 in cash, including payments that were hidden in a pie box.

A judge denied a request to throw out the corruption counts, clearing the way for Shoffner's trial to begin as scheduled Monday.

Shoffner declined to comment Thursday. Her defense attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes to dismiss the indictment filed against Shoffner, but the judge has not yet ruled on that request.

"We're going to defend. We're concentrating on Monday. That's our primary concern," defense attorney Chuck Banks said after Thursday's hearing.

Shoffner was arrested May 18 at her Newport home after the FBI said it caught her on tape accepting a $6,000 payment from the broker, who hasn't been identified. In court filings, federal prosecutors allege that Shoffner also accepted gifts from the broker _ including a pair of eyeglasses she wore to a legislative audit hearing.

Shoffner had initially planned to plead guilty last year to bribery charges related to the cash payments from the broker until she told Holmes the payments didn't affect her decisions as treasurer and that she didn't intentionally steer business to the broker.

When Holmes asked Shoffner last year if she accepted payments from the broker, she responded: "Yes, but it was offered. I didn't demand it."

Holmes rejected the plea since she wasn't admitting guilt to all of the elements of the charge. Federal prosecutors later expanded their charges against Shoffner over the payments.

___

Follow Jill Bleed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jzbleed


(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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