Former Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan is accused of taking more than $400,000 in return for his influence on bills. Prosecutors lodged bribery and extortion charges against Morgan, but he says the money he received was for legal services. He and a co-defendant pleaded not guilty and denied allegations during their testimony this week.
“He didn’t act as a lawyer. He got paid because he was an important senator,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Williams told the 12-member jury during Thursday’s closing arguments. He said one of the companies, Tenaska Inc., only hired Morgan because they wanted “high-powered political capital on retainer.”
Defense lawyer David Ogle told jurors the ex-Senate leader did not sell his seat and that Morgan would not have put his legal career in jeopardy.
“He has not denied the citizens of this state of honest services,” Ogle said. “Mr. Morgan brought benefit to the table. Mike Morgan was of value.”
A crowd packed the courtroom for closing arguments — the judge had to ask for the doors to be opened. Morgan’s 84-year-old father, Burnell Morgan, listened to arguments, as did Morgan’s daughter, brother and sister. Members of co-defendant N. Martin Stringer’s family were also there for support, including children.
Deliberations resumed today.
Stringer, also a lawyer, is charged with extortion and mail fraud. Stringer’s lawyer Drew Neville rhetorically asked jurors why no one from the state Ethics Commission testified against the two men. He said Stringer checked with state officials before hiring Morgan and was told that lining up his services would be OK.
During the trial, prosecutors said Tenaska, a power plant developer that paid Morgan $250,000, asked Morgan to answer a series of research questions about a proposed project. Morgan did not respond to the request and the questions were eventually answered by other attorneys. While on the stand, Morgan said that he didn’t work on the request because he knew other lawyers were. He also said Tenaska never asked him to influence legislation.
The government also said Morgan received $141,000 from Dilworth Development Co., which wanted to build a landfill in northern Oklahoma, and another $12,000 from Silver Oak Senior Living, a company that wanted to limit the Health Department’s regulation of assisted-living centers.
Morgan, 57, said he was brought into the Dilworth project as the “new idea person,” but in Williams’ closing argument, he cited testimony from Dilworth officials that said Morgan was hired to “watch our back.”
Morgan also said he became involved in Silver Oak through a friend who was also a lobbyist. He disputed testimony that he told a company official that a $1,000 payment was “the way it works.”
U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron last week dismissed all charges against one of Morgan’s co-defendants, William Andrew Skeith, 53, of Edmond. She also dismissed 32 charges, including a conspiracy count, against Stringer, 72, of Oklahoma City. Stringer still faces 29 counts in the case.
Cauthron said prosecutors did not present enough evidence that Skeith and Stringer were part of a conspiracy in the case. Federal prosecutors dropped the conspiracy count against Morgan on Monday, but he remained charged with bribery, extortion and mail fraud.
Extortion and wire fraud charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though under sentencing guidelines penalties are often less than the maximum. Bribery carries a 10-year prison term and a $250,000 fine. The government’s indictment also sought forfeiture of the alleged illegal payments to Morgan.