The Norman Transcript

State/Region

January 11, 2014

Trial of Tea Party co-founder moved

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma County judge Friday postponed the blackmail and computer crimes trial of the co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday for the trial of Al Gerhart, 55, who was charged in April in connection with a threatening email he allegedly sent to a state senator about legislation favored by his group, which supports conservative political candidates.

District Judge Ray Elliott granted a motion by Gerhart’s defense attorneys to postpone the trial and set May 5 as the new trial date.

Gerhart has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry penalties of up to five years in prison. Prosecutors filed charges after the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation gave them a report of its investigation of an email received by Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City.

Gerhart has acknowledged that he sent an email to Branan, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, on March 26. An affidavit of probable cause that was filed in the case says the email to Branan “was intended to threaten and intimidate him.”

The email involved a bill that would have prohibited state organizations from following a United Nations plan to help cities and countries become more environmentally sustainable. Branan refused to give the House-passed bill a hearing, saying the legislation was based on a “fringe conspiracy” alleging that the U.N. wanted to use its Agenda 21 plan to encroach on private property rights.

Among other things, the email demanded that Branan give the measure a hearing, “or I will make sure you regret not doing it.”

“I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don’t hear that this bill will be heard and passed,” the email said, according to court documents. “We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates, and once we start on you there will be no end to it.”

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