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Broker says he received about $2.5 million in commissions after helping Arkansas' ex-treasurer

A broker who says he gave $36,000 to Arkansas' former treasurer to help her during a rough patch testified at her federal corruption trial Monday that he received around $2.5 million in commissions for business he did for the state.

Bond dealer Steele Stephens said he gave money to then-Treasurer Martha Shoffner as a friend, and her lawyer worked Monday to illustrate that the money was given to her as a friend and not with the intent to bribe her. Stephens said he knew the payments were wrong.

Shoffner faces 14 counts alleging bribery and extortion. She has pleaded not guilty and said during a court hearing last May that she did not steer any extra state business toward Stephens because of his generosity. Stephens had testified Friday that he wanted to help Shoffner years ago after her mother died and she lost an apartment and access to a state vehicle.

Under questioning by government lawyers Monday, Stephens acknowledged that he benefited by giving her money. He eventually received about twice as much state business as any other broker and said that during the four years he was making payments to Shoffner, he received about $2.5 million in commissions.

Defense attorney Chuck Banks wants jurors to consider that Stephens' generosity came without a price, but the bond dealer undercut Banks when asked whether he thought he was committing a federal crime.

"I knew it was wrong," Stephens said after a moment's hesitation.

Banks accused the government of trying to get Stephens to offer a version of the truth that would preserve his immunity from prosecution.

Under questioning by prosecutors, Stephens said that without immunity, he risked having to give up his $2.5 million in commissions because they'd be classified as ill-gotten gains.

For a second day, prosecutors played recordings of Shoffner and Stephens discussing the cash payments. Stephens wore a wire to record the conversations for investigators. On Monday, government lawyers played an hourlong video created when Stephens met with Shoffner on the day of her arrest. He brought her a chocolate pie in a box that also included $6,000 in money supplied by the FBI.

Banks spent less than an hour cross-examining Stephens, who told jurors that Shoffner felt like she was his older sister.

Banks stressed that the state made money on the trades Stephens handled and that Shoffner and Stephens weren't accused of stealing state money.

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