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May 8, 2014

Sooner Tea Party co-founder convicted of blackmail

OKLAHOMA CITY — A jury convicted the co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party on Wednesday of felony blackmail and computer crimes charges but recommended that he not serve any prison time and that he pay a $1,000 fine.

Al Gerhart, 55, could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison for each of the two counts.

Judge Ray Elliott could disregard the jury’s recommended punishment for Gerhart at his July 22 sentencing hearing in Oklahoma County District Court, but it’s highly unlikely he would do so.

Gerhart admits that he sent an email to state Sen. Cliff Branan urging the Oklahoma City Republican to schedule a hearing on legislation favored by Gerhart’s activist conservative political group.

Branan, the chairman of the Senate Energy, Telecommunication and Environment Committee, testified Tuesday that he felt threatened by the email that vowed to “dig into your past” and mentioned his family and associates.

The March 26, 2013, email said if Branan’s committee didn’t take up a bill to prohibit state organizations from following a United Nations plan to help cities and countries become more environmentally sustainable, “I will make sure you regret not doing it.”

Branan had refused to give the 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 the private property rights of Americans.

Jurors began their deliberations shortly after noon Wednesday, which was the third day of the trial.

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