By Tim Talley
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The powerful former leader of the Oklahoma Senate was sentenced to five years’ probation Tuesday after being convicted of taking a $12,000 bribe in exchange for his influence on legislation.
Former Senate President Pro-Tem Mike Morgan had faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He was convicted on a federal bribery charge in March, though jurors acquitted him of related extortion and mail fraud counts and couldn’t reach a verdict on other counts.
U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron handed down the sentence and declined to impose a fine on Morgan, a lawyer from Stillwater.
“I am very relieved that the judge has granted probation,” Morgan said. “She understands the weakness of this case. I am innocent.”
The Democrat was indicted by a grand jury in 2011 on charges that alleged he took $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.
Morgan insisted the money amounted to legal fees for work he did for the companies and that he never sacrificed his “independent judgment” when voting on legislation. Prosecutors alleged Morgan did no legal work for the companies.
Jurors weren’t so sure. They 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.
All charges against a co-defendant, lobbyist William Andrew Skeith, were dismissed after prosecutors rested their case. The judge also dismissed half the counts against another co-defendant, attorney N. Martin Stringer, and the jury acquitted him on the rest.
Morgan had asked Cauthron to sentence him to probation, arguing that his years of public service and devotion to the state and its people merited leniency. His pre-sentence memorandum was accompanied by more than 400 testimonial letters from three former governors, current and former lawmakers, tribal leaders and other elected officials as well as members of his family and citizens who support him.
But prosecutors asked Cauthron to impose “a significant sentence of imprisonment,” describing the bribery conviction as “an extremely serious offense” that merits a prison sentence.
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