Appeals Court Says Former Senate Leader Should Do Time
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A federal appeals court on Friday ordered that the former leader of the Oklahoma Senate be resentenced for a bribery conviction, ruling that his probation sentence was "little more than a slap on the wrist" and deserves prison time.
A three-judge 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said the punishment was "grossly at odds" with sentencing guidelines in the case of former Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan. The Democrat from Stillwater faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when convicted on a federal bribery charge in March 2012.
Morgan's attorney didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.
Morgan was indicted on charges that accused him of taking about $400,000 from three different companies. But a federal jury found him guilty of taking only a $12,000 bribe in exchange for his influence on legislation. He was acquitted on related extortion and mail fraud counts, and jurors couldn't reach a verdict on other counts.
Morgan, an attorney, insisted any money he took was payment for legal work he did for the companies.
In January 2013, U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron ordered Morgan to serve five years' probation. The judge also ordered Morgan to complete 104 hours of community service during the first year of probation. The judge ordered him to forfeit the $12,000, but imposed no fine.
Morgan appealed his conviction, and prosecutors challenged his sentence. The 10th Circuit affirmed Morgan's conviction, but it reversed his sentence and sent the case back to Cauthron for resentencing. The panel said Morgan's conduct in the case "demands a significant period of incarceration."
The court said Morgan swore to an oath that he would not knowingly receive, directly or indirectly, "any money or other valuable thing, for the performance or nonperformance of any act or duty" pertaining to his state Senate position.
"Not only did he violate this oath, he violated the trust of his electorate," the court ruling says. "The entire public suffers as a result and ought not be requested to tolerate a sentence amount grossly at odds with the sentencing guidelines and amounting to little more than a slap on the wrist."
A federal grand jury accused Morgan of taking $250,000 from energy development company Tenaska Inc.; $141,000 from Dilworth Development Co., which wanted to build a landfill in northern Oklahoma; and $12,000 from Silver Oak Senior Living, which sought to limit the Health Department's regulation of assisted-living centers.
Jurors convicted Morgan only on a single bribery count that accused him of taking the $12,000 from the assisted-living center in exchange for attempting to influence legislation that would have eased regulations on the state's nursing home industry.
Morgan insisted the money was payment for legal fees for work he did for the companies and that he never sacrificed his "independent judgment" when voting on legislation. Prosecutors alleged that Morgan did no legal work for the companies.
All charges against a co-defendant, former lobbyist William Andrew Skeith, were dismissed after prosecutors rested their case. The judge dismissed half of the counts against another co-defendant, attorney N. Martin Stringer, and the jury acquitted him on the rest.
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