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Sketchy deal?


The charges against Rep. Randy Terrill and former Sen. Debbe Leftwich not only allege corruption, but illustrate the making of a political pact

Clifton Adcock January 26th, 2011

The woman and her attorney entered the courtroom and found one of the few remaining seats at the front of the public gallery.

Along with most of the people there, she was scheduled to make an initial appearance that day — a legal proceeding in which the accused appear before a judge and receive a copy of the charges against them.

The woman’s attorney excused himself for a few minutes before returning and motioning for the woman to cross the bar, the barrier that separates the public gallery from where the court’s business takes place. She followed her attorney and took a seat.

Soon after, a balding man wearing a suit and accompanied by his attorney entered the courtroom. Standing against a wall, the man tinkered on his iPad while the bailiff called out the names of those dismissed from making an appearance that day. After the bailiff was finished, the man and his attorney crossed the bar, and seeing his co-defendant, the man smiled and shook the woman’s hand.

The woman, former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and the man, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, are both facing felony bribery charges filed by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Terrill is accused of offering a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy, while Leftwich is accused of soliciting or accepting a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy. The allegations laid forth in the charges are serious, and if convicted, Terrill and Leftwich could face up to two years in prison or a fine up to $5,000.

According to campaign records, as of Sept. 20, Leftwich paid a year-to-date total of $29,500 from her campaign coffers to the law firm Crowe & Dunlevy. While state law prohibits candidates from using campaign funds to defend against criminal charges, the bills were for other legal work, said Crowe & Dunlevy’s Robert McCampbell, the attorney defending Leftwich against the criminal charges filed Dec. 22. Leftwich had no comment, but McCampbell said the charges against his client are unfounded.

“We welcome the opportunity to proceed to court and to use the legal process to show why the charges are completely groundless,” McCampbell said in a written statement. “When the legal process is complete, we are fully confident that Sen. Leftwich will be found to have done nothing wrong in any respect.”

Neither Terrill nor his attorney, Stephen Jones, responded to requests by Oklahoma Gazette for an interview, but following his initial appearance at the Oklahoma County Courthouse on Jan. 3, Terrill made a public statement calling the charges politically motivated.

“What we have here is actually a good oldfashioned political persecution, not a criminal prosecution, by an overzealous and hyperpartisan Democrat district attorney who has charged a nonexistent crime,” Terrill said.

Terrill, who said there is no evidence of any wrongdoing in the case against him, is confident he will be cleared.

“I am being charged because of who I am and what I believe, and that’s something every real conservative should find extremely troubling,” said Terrill, author of the state’s 2007 immigration reform law. “I never offered or gave her anything to withdraw as a candidate from last year’s election. I am 100 percent innocent of the charges, which are absolutely, totally and completely without any factual or legal merit.”

Terrill and Leftwich were released on their own recognizance Jan. 3. A preliminary hearing conference in the case is scheduled for March 17.

Although Prater did not respond to an interview request by the Gazette, an affidavit filed in the case illustrates details of the alleged political pact.

CONSULTANTS AND COUNTRY CLUBS 

Voters chose Leftwich in December 2003 to the state Senate in a special election for District 44, which is comprised of a good portion of southwest Oklahoma City. Her husband, Keith Leftwich, had previously held the seat, but had died of cancer in September 2003.

She was re-elected to the post in 2006, and submitted paperwork for her next campaign in early 2007.

Meanwhile, retired Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Mike Christian, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for state representative in 2006, won his 2008 bid for House District 93, which overlaps part of Leftwich’s Senate district.

In February 2010, Christian began considering running for Leftwich’s seat, although his ultimate goal was to run for Oklahoma County sheriff, according to Prater’s investigation. Because the officials’ election cycles are not the same, Christian would have been able to retain the Senate seat while running for sheriff.

As part of the district attorney’s investigation, Christian said he was concerned about running against an incumbent, but noticed that Leftwich seemed to be losing influence in her district. Christian later spoke with his political consulting firm, A.H. Strategies, about possibly polling the Senate district to gauge his likelihood of winning, although no poll was conducted because of Christian’s inability to pay for one, according to the affidavit.

Christian, who then was contacted in late February or early March by a representative from the Senate Political Action Committee in an apparent attempt to recruit him to run for Leftwich’s seat, was offered assistance for fundraising, the charges state.

In March, Leftwich contacted Christian, upset and crying, asking to speak with him, according to the court filing. Leftwich asked if Christian was planning to run for her seat and, according to the charges, told him, “How can you do this, I thought we were friends.”

Christian told investigators that he downplayed his interest in the seat, so as not to further upset Leftwich, and told her he was getting a lot of pressure to run against her, but had not made a decision. Leftwich told him that a poll had been conducted in her Senate district. Afterward, Christian contacted Terrill to tell him about the confrontation, the charges state.

In mid-March, Christian’s political consultant Chad Alexander, a partner in the political consulting firm Majority Designs, told him that Leftwich may not run for her Senate seat and was going to take a job at the state Medical Examiner’s Office. Christian told investigators that he called Terrill to confirm the rumor, but Terrill refused to answer the question, according to the filing.

A.H. Strategies, which campaign records show did work for Christian, and Majority Designs are well-known GOP strategy groups located in Oklahoma City. The two firms feature the same list of successful candidates on their respective websites, which feature similar layout and content.

Although his name is not on the website’s list of successful candidates, campaign records show that Terrill is a client of Majority Designs.

The charges state that Christian’s consultants would be paid a victory bonus of $20,000 if Christian won re-election to the House, and $40,000 if he won election to the Senate.

Neither Fount Holland, a partner in both firms, nor Alexander returned phone calls from the Gazette.

On May 20, a party at the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club celebrated the nearing adjournment of the legislative session. Christian told investigators that he had too much to drink at the party, and had talked about running for Leftwich’s seat. The next day, Terrill called and told him to “keep his mouth shut” about possibly

running, the charges state. This was followed by a call from Leftwich, who told Christian not to talk about her candidacy, according to the filing.

IHOP SUMMIT

Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, told the district attorney’s office that Senate President Pro Tem Glen Coffee had tasked him with getting Coffee’s Senate Bill 738 — a measure to clear up some issues at the Medical Examiner’s Office — through the Legislature. Sykes contacted Terrill in the House and asked him what language to put in the bill in order to gain House approval, according to the court filings.

Four days before the country club party, during the final weeks of the 2010 legislative session, three legislators sat together at the Moore International House of Pancakes to talk about legislation. At their meeting, Terrill asked Sykes if Leftwich could join the conversation, to which he consented, the document states. Sykes told investigators that the term “transition coordinator” was not brought up, or if it was, it was only in passing.

The next day, Terrill met with the Medical Examiner’s Office Chief Administrative Officer Tom Jordan and public information officer Cherokee Ballard. The charges state that Terrill told the two that what he was discussing was “dead man’s talk.”

At the meeting, Terrill recommended Leftwich be hired as the transition coordinator, where she would make about $80,000 per year, according to the charges.

Because the Oklahoma Constitution bars legislators from taking state jobs funded through appropriated money for two years after leaving office, Terrill allegedly told the two that her position would be paid for through nonappropriated funds via a revolving fund he helped create in 2009, according to the court filing.

Ballard and Jordan agreed that they were being pressured to hire Leftwich, the charges state.

The next day, Terrill dictated to a Senate staff member the language he wanted inserted into the bill, the charges state. The staffer told investigators Terrill inserted language into Senate bill creating the position of “transition coordinator” at the Medical Examiner’s Office.

You will destroy our way of life at the Capitol if the public learns of what it is really like in the last week.

—unnamed lobbyist

The language inserted included detailed information, including salary and the date the position was to be filled, the charges state. The staffer told investigators that the inclusion of the specific information raised a “red flag” and that during the meeting, neither Sykes nor Leftwich offered input on the transition coordinator language.

Sykes, who did not return phone calls from the Gazette, later told investigators he was suspicious of the language, but thought it would be vetted out in committee.

Terrill contacted Sykes on May 25 and told him he was going to divert money to the Medical Examiner’s Office from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics’ Drug Money Laundering and Wire Transmitter Revolving Fund, and that OBN Director Darrell Weaver had been notified, the charges state.

Weaver told Sykes that he did not like the diversion, but he was powerless to stop it since Terrill was his appropriation chairman, the charges state.

That same week, Leftwich contacted Jordan to express that she was looking forward to working with him and that they would “make a great team,” the charges state. However, Jordan announced his resignation from the office on May 24.

Senate Bill 738 passed the House on May 27. The next day, which was the final day of the legislative session, House Bill 2486 — the funding bill — passed. That same day, Leftwich announced she was not seeking re-election to the Senate, and three days later, Christian announced he was running for Leftwich’s seat.

‘WAY OF LIFE’
When Prater’s investigation into the case became public on June 4, Christian dropped out of the race. In November, he was re-elected to his House seat and Republican Ralph Shortey won Leftwich’s seat.

Both SB 738 and HB 2486 were vetoed June 6 by then-Gov. Brad Henry. Charges were not filed against Terrill and Leftwich until December.

Some comments in the charges filed against Terrill and Leftwich don’t directly address the two, but reference the culture at the Capitol.

After interviewing multiple sources, Gary Eastridge, an investigator in the district attorney’s office, wrote that the last weeks of the legislative session are often chaotic, and legislators take advantage of the chaos by slipping “special” language into bills that otherwise would be vetted.

One lobbyist told Eastridge that if the public were to find out about the practice, it would not be pleased.

“We do it every session; that’s just the way it is,” Eastridge quoted the unnamed lobbyist as saying. “You will destroy our way of life at the Capitol if the public learns of what it is really like in the last week.”

Read the affidavit here. 

Illustration/Brad Gregg

 
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02.03.2011 at 10:13 Reply

I used to work at an Oklahoma state agency and got leaned on all the time to hire this friend of a Senator or that friend of the Governor.  I always refused but it ultimately cost me my job.  If you try to keep a straight line while working for Oklahoma politicians you'll eventually accumulate too many enemies.  But it was worth it.

My biggest wonder is why the state's two biggest newspapers don't report on the way things REALLY work at the State Capitol?  They know, but they don't report on it.

 

01.31.2012 at 08:45 Reply

Prescriptions for cold medicine and "Wandering Weaver" goes to Bourbon Country?

We have another case of the government punishing the people to catch the less than 1% misusing a common product, using flawed data to back up their "logic".

Now common cold remedies using  ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are sold at drug stores everywhere. But those ingredients are used in producing meth too. So to "solve" the meth problem Senator Tom Jensen (R-Kentucky)  will force you to go to the doctor to treat your sniffles. Doesn't make sense.

The problem isn't the medicine, the problem is how it's being misused.

Senator Jensen proposes to punish the 99% that are using the medicine correctly. Even our own Darryl Weaver, head of the Bureau of Narcotics in Oklahoma weighed in for Kentucky. In Kentucky. In Kentucky? Wandering Weaver went to Kentucky ... to help Oklahoma? How does that work?

Mr. Weaver believes the potency of home made meth is greater than that smuggled in from Mexico. Somehow he believes you shouldn't be able to get common cold tablets for your kids at the corner drug store. But the law of supply and demand exists in the illegal drug industry too. Prices are decreasing as purity levels are increasing in an effort to attract users. Purity has increased to 90 percent even as the price per gram has dropped to about $89, according to a federal Drug Enforcement Agency database and reported in the study.

But as Senator Jensen proposes to restrict your rights in a misguided effort to stop home-made meth, it ignores the ingenuity of the drug lords. According to Jane Maxwell, senior researcher at The University of Texas,  meth purveyors are getting around restrictions on pseudoephedrine by turning to a manufacturing method that uses different chemicals.

"It's not surprising that meth use is rebounding", Maxwell said in the journal Addictive Behaviors in December 2011, "that's the pattern during the decades that meth has been used. It really is a cyclical pattern of use is up, we put in barriers to producing it or to prevent it from being obtained and that takes it down for a little while," she said. "But then it goes back up again." The recent down cycle occurred after sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were severely restricted. The up cycle began as makers of the drug in Mexico reverted to another method called P2P for the principal chemicals involved. 

Wandering Weaver should stay home and solve our problems here.

So why is Oklahoma punishing it's law abiding residents in an effort to chase a problem that already has been side stepped by the drug lords?

 

02.05.2012 at 08:48 Reply

“Time for Law Enforcement to Back Up Its Citizens, Not Turn Its Back”

 

Last week I read in The Times (Pryor Creek, OK) that Diana Reeves lived in a peaceful neighborhood for 33 years.

Past tense.

In a house down the street, there seemed to be a lot of visitors. At first it was during the day. The visitors rapidly increased to any day and anytime. It evolved into a sort of drive up system. A car would pull over in front of the house; someone would exchange sacks and run back into the house. Then a lookout was added. After a few months of calling the sheriff, she had enough and went to the police station. No results. As any good citizen would do, she said enough and took the additional courageous step of taping the activities as well as recording vehicle license plates.  Armed with some great information, she gave it to Sheriff Frank Cantey. Cantey assured her they would like to get these guys. Problem solved, results expected shortly. But over a 14 month period, only one off-duty officer stayed on her street for about 90 minutes. That’s about .00015 of 1% over the 14 month period devoted to stopping this meth house. Since the activity magically stopped during the one-time surveillance then reappeared 20 minutes after the officer left and the neighborhood NEVER had any follow up police work, one must wonder what’s actually going on.  Is it deliberate indifference, other priorities (in the #1 area for pseudoephedrine sales in the state?) or something as nefarious as a Sheriff gone bad?

A cheap shot at law enforcement? I don’t think so. This could have been the scenario in any town in Oklahoma. With our top narcotics enforcement agent Darryl Weaver, calling for greater regulations on Oklahoma’s law abiding citizens instead of catching these guys, is it any wonder that bad attitude has made its way to the local level? What a lazy way to solve a problem – ignore it until it gets too big, then punish those that are playing by the rules.

The problem isn’t the medicine; the problem is law enforcement being viewed as lazy, not tenacious and slow to act.

With the police calling for citizen involvement and with Diana Reeves not only answering that call but going beyond what should be expected, and being ignored, I wonder what kind of message law enforcement sitting on its hands sends Oklahoma's tax paying citizens and how cheerful criminals must be smiling. Let's hope this period of law enforcement sitting on the sidelines ends soon and that good folks like Diana Reeves can go to bed at night knowing law enforcement has her back as opposed to turning their back on her and the rest of its citizenry. 

 

 
 
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