OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday declined to throw out the bribery conviction of a former leader of the Oklahoma Senate, saying prosecutors presented enough evidence at trial to support it.
U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron handed down the decision in the case of former Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, 57, who was convicted of bribery on March 5 by a 12-member jury that also found him not guilty of related extortion and mail fraud counts and could not reach a verdict on other counts.
Morgan was accused of illegally accepting more than $400,000 from three companies that sought his influence on pending legislation between 2005 and 2008.
A grand jury indictment last year alleged Morgan 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, a Stillwater attorney, insisted the money was legal fees for work he did for the companies and that he never sacrificed his “independent judgment” when voting on legislation. But prosecutors alleged Morgan did no legal work for the companies.
Jurors convicted Morgan on a single bribery charge that accused him of attempting to influence a bill that would ease regulations on the state’s nursing home industry. All charges against a co-defendant, lobbyist William Andrew Skeith, were dismissed by Cauthron after prosecutors rested their case. Cauthron also dismissed half the counts against another co-defendant, attorney N. Martin Stringer, and the jury acquitted him on the rest.
Following the trial, Morgan’s defense attorneys filed a motion asking a judge to throw out the jury’s guilty verdict. The motion claimed evidence about allegations against Morgan’s co-defendants prejudiced the jury and led to the single-count guilty verdict.
The motion said there was no direct evidence that Morgan influenced or attempted to influence legislation on behalf of Silver Oak and no evidence that he led others, including the company’s owner, to believe he would.
“This verdict clearly was reached by the piling of inference upon inference and the reliance, via comparison and contrast, of the evidence,” it says. It adds later, “No viable evidence, nor reasonable and appropriate inference can be drawn to warrant the conviction.”
But prosecutors said they had evidence to support the bribery conviction, including testimony indicating that in exchange for a $1,000 monthly retainer, Morgan made his conference room available to Silver Oak for meetings with Oklahoma Department of Health officials and authored legislation that helped Silver Oak by clarifying its rights in disputes with the Health Department.
In denying the motion, Cauthron agreed with prosecutors that evidence they presented at Morgan’s trial supports his conviction.
“There was evidence offered at trial which would establish each element of the crime of conviction,” her order states. “That Morgan can now offer an innocent explanation for that evidence does not entitle him to acquittal.”
The judge granted Morgan’s motion for more time to request a new trial and ordered Morgan to make the request within 10 days.
No sentencing date has been set. Bribery is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but penalties under federal sentencing guidelines are generally less.
Morgan’s attorney, David Ogle, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.