Skip to comments.Former State House Member Charged
Posted on 02/22/2003 7:43:21 AM PST by Osage Orange
Former state House member charged
By Chris Casteel
Former Oklahoma House member Walt Roberts was charged in U.S. District Court in alleged schemes to funnel $175,000 in illegal contributions into his 1998 campaign for Congress.
Two conspiracy charges were filed against Roberts -- a felony count of obstructing the Federal Election Commission's investigation into his campaign financing and a misdemeanor count of conspiring to violate federal election laws.
The charges come after a federal investigation that also focused on the role of state Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, in Roberts' campaign. Stipe helped manage the campaign and told reporters in November he gave Roberts $67,500 but didn't know it would be put into the campaign.
Stipe, a partner in a McAlester law firm, previously denied any wrongdoing. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Roberts was the only person named in the charges. However, the case also involves three unidentified co-conspirators.
One is described as a political mentor and friend to Roberts and a partner in a law firm in the congressional district in which Roberts ran. Another unnamed conspirator is described as an employee at the law firm and the personal assistant to the unnamed political mentor or Roberts. The third conspirator is described as a friend of Roberts and his occasional campaign driver.
According to the case, Roberts conspired with others on four different occasions to get large sums of money that exceeded legal campaign contribution limits on the pretense the money was for property or services rendered. Roberts is accused of lying on his campaign contribution reports about the sources of the money.
Roberts is also accused of conspiring with others to fabricate testimony. According to the charges, Roberts attended a meeting in January 2001 in which false testimony was coordinated for upcoming Federal Election Commission depositions.
In 1998, contributions from individuals were limited to $1,000 per election, meaning one person could give $3,000 to a candidate who had a primary, a runoff and a general election. The charges allege the conspiracy was designed to circumvent those limits and hide the true source of the money.
The charges were filed Feb. 14 by the U.S. Justice Department's public integrity section. They were officially entered late Thursday by the court clerk's office. The fact the charges were filed directly by prosecutors rather than indictments returned by a grand jury could mean Roberts is still considering entering into a plea agreement.
A federal grand jury has been investigating Roberts' campaign since last year, sources have told The Oklahoman.
One of the prosecutors who filed the charges against Roberts told the federal defender's office late last year that Roberts "would be coming to the District of Columbia to discuss his case and probably will eventually enter into a plea agreement," according to a letter that is part of the case record.
Roberts, 40, is being represented by Gregory Spencer of the federal public defender's office in Washington.
"I can't make any comment right now," Spencer said Friday.
Roberts, a part-time auctioneer and musician who lives in California, has repeatedly declined to comment on the case.
The case stems from Roberts' unsuccessful race for Congress in 1998, when his campaign contribution reports showed Roberts repeatedly putting large sums of what he called personal money into his campaign.
A former state House member at the time, Roberts, a McAlester Democrat, had no obvious means for coming up with the money. A financial disclosure report filed at the time by Roberts showed little income and more debts than assets. He told the media at the time he had borrowed money to buy cattle and then sold the cattle and put the money into his campaign. He also said he sold some of his artwork at an auction to get part of the money.
In October 1998, the Oklahoma congressional delegation, which was then all Republican, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging Roberts had accepted illegal campaign contributions and filed false reports.
The commission investigated the allegations before turning over the matter to the Justice Department.
Sources told The Oklahoman that the federal grand jury investigating Roberts' campaign financing has focused on the role played by Stipe, a longtime financial benefactor and political backer of Roberts. Stipe's law firm was the early headquarters of Roberts' campaign.
Stipe has denied knowing that the $67,500 he gave Roberts, supposedly for the purchase of cattle, was going to the campaign.
He told The Oklahoman in November he had given Roberts the money to buy cattle and that he eventually got the cattle. A $67,500 transaction is specifically mentioned in the charges.
The supposed sale of cattle was a major source of controversy in 1998.
Stipe could not be reached Friday at his state Capitol office and did not return a phone call made to his McAlester law office. He said in November he had not been contacted by federal authorities in relation to the grand jury investigation.
The origin of the relationship between Stipe and Roberts is unclear, but the close connection continued into last year. In seeking free legal help from the public defender's office, Roberts in December filed an affidavit in U.S. District Court, with a note saying Stipe paid him $3,500 a month in living assistance money through July 2002.
According to the charges filed against Roberts:
A conspirator allegedly gave $20,500 to another conspirator to buy a trailer from Roberts. However, no such sale occurred, and the money was then put into Roberts' campaign.
$17,000 was transferred from one of the conspirator's law firms to Roberts and then to Roberts' campaign "supposedly as a payment for advertising services" that had been performed by Roberts "when, in fact, no such services were performed or were intended to be performed."
A conspirator transferred $67,500 to Roberts, who then put the money into his campaign, "supposedly for the sale of cattle when, in fact, the supposed sale did not occur."
A conspirator gave Roberts $70,000 "supposedly pursuant to an option contract" that was a "sham."
Roberts and others conspired to lie about the sources of the money on federal campaign contribution reports.
In or about January 2001, "Roberts and others attended a meeting in which they coordinated false testimony that they intended to give in upcoming FEC depositions."
Roberts falsely testified in a sworn oral deposition in January 2001 about the sources of the campaign money.
If he were a Republican, it would have been in the title.....
"Interesting, one has to read half the story before discovering that Roberts is a Democrat.
If he were a Republican, it would have been in the title....."
Not surprised...the article originated in D.C. Although I'd say most political savvy Okie's know exactly who Roberts and Stipe are...and what they are. "Crooks"...would be a good start...Ha!!
As I recall, Walt's legislative accomplishment in Oklahoma included getting the Bob Wills song Faded Love named the state's official "Western Swing Song". That single piece of legislation set Oklahoma's feet on the path to greatness.
For what it's worth, poor ol' Walt was just a fiddle player and like most of that ilk (;) was as full of $hit as a Christmas goose. He's a natural at the glad handing crap you have to do as a Little Dixie pol, but he never was the sharpest knife in the drawer. I think Gene Stipe quite obviously used Walt, befriended him, and got him in so far over his head that Walt was sunk before he even knew it.
As for Teflon, Gene Stipe makes Gotti look like a piker.
FWIW Stipe assistant routed funds, charges allege
By Chris Casteel
WASHINGTON -- Oklahoma state Sen. Gene Stipe's personal assistant gave money to at least 20 people and asked them to contribute the money in their own names to Walt Roberts' congressional campaign in 1998, according to charges filed in federal court.
The charges accuse Charlene Spears of giving money to "straw contributors" that she had received from her boss and a person identified as a longtime friend of her boss. The charges detail contributions made to Roberts' campaign from 20 "straw contributors" who are not identified by name. The charges also allege Spears received $1,950 to donate to Roberts in her name.
Spears was charged late Thursday in U.S. District Court with one misdemeanor count of conspiracy in her role of funneling illegal contributions to Roberts' failed campaign and with one felony count of conspiracy on an accusation of lying about the true source of the money during a Federal Election Commission investigation.
Roberts pleaded guilty Wednesday to the same charges Spears faces. He is expected to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation.
In the Roberts and Spears cases combined, prosecutors have identified more than $245,000 in illegal contributions to the 1998 campaign.
The fact that Spears, as Roberts, was charged by information -- rather than being indicted by the grand jury hearing evidence in the case -- indicates she also will enter into a plea agreement in the case.
Spears did not respond to a request for comment. Stipe has declined to comment on the case since November, when he told reporters he gave Roberts $67,500 "to buy me some cattle." He said then he didn't realize the money would wind up in the campaign.
As in the case against Roberts, Stipe, D-McAlester, was not identified by name.
Spears, a longtime employee of the Stipe Law Firm in McAlester, is described in the charges against her as the personal assistant to "C-1" and an employee of C-1's law firm. C-1 is described as a political mentor and friend to Roberts, a partner at a law firm in the 3rd Congressional District in 1998 and a state elected official. The other alleged conspirator, cited as C-2, is described as a longtime friend to C-1.
According to the charges, Spears twice told her boss during the FEC investigation that "they might as well tell the truth to the FEC."
Once, in 2000, he replied "that he could not tell the truth because he had to run for re-election that year."
According to the charges, Spears made false statements to the FEC in December 2000 and January 2001.
Stipe, long considered one of the most powerful legislators in Oklahoma, particularly in the southeastern part of the state, has served in the Legislature for more than 50 years. Stipe, 76, is serving his last two years in the Senate before term limits make him ineligible to run.
Stipe won his last race in 2000 without opposition.
Sources familiar with the grand jury investigation told The Oklahoman last year that prosecutors had focused on the role played by Stipe and Spears in Roberts' campaign.
Roberts was a former state House member from McAlester when he ran for Congress in 1998, winning the Democratic nomination but losing in the general election to then-incumbent Republican Rep. Wes Watkins.
During the campaign, a series of personal loans and contributions from Roberts raised questions from the media and his opponents about where he was getting such large sums of money. The Oklahoma congressional delegation filed a complaint against him in October 1998 alleging he was funneling illegal money into his campaign and filing false FEC reports.
Roberts, 40, whose last known address was in California, admitted to that Wednesday. He was released on his own recognizance and faces sentencing July 15.
The charges against Spears include some of the same illegal acts as were contained in Roberts' case -- including the cattle transaction that Roberts admitted was bogus. But some new ones were revealed.
According to the charges against Spears, she was given at least $40,000 from her boss and a longtime friend of her boss, and she then gave that money to others to make contributions.
The charges detail the contributions from 20 different straw contributors, not counting Spears herself, giving the amounts contributed, the dates on which they were contributed and the dates the contributions were reported to the FEC.
For instance, straw contributor No. 18 gave $950 on Aug. 14, 1998, $950 on Sept. 3, 1998, and $1,000 on Oct. 29, 1998. According to FEC reports filed by Roberts, attorney Mark Thetford, of the Stipe Law Firm office in Muskogee, gave those exact same amounts on those dates.
Reached Friday, Thetford said, "I'm not going to have any comment on that."
FEC regulations state that "No person shall -- (i) Make a contribution in the name of another; (ii) Knowingly permit his or her name to be used to effect that contribution; (iii) Knowingly help or assist any person in making a contribution in the name of another; or (iv) Knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another."
According to the charges, straw contributor No. 15 gave $950 on Aug. 14, 1998, $1,000 on Aug. 31, 1998, and $998 on Sept. 28, 1998. Barbara Thetford of Jenks gave those exact same amounts on those dates. She is the wife of John Thetford, an attorney with the Stipe Law Firm office in Tulsa.
Reached Friday, Barbara Thetford said: "I really don't know anything about that. I guess you'll just have to call somebody else. I'm sorry."
Straw contributor No. 2 gave $250 on May 22, 1998, $1,000 on Aug. 28, 1998, $550 on Aug. 28, 1998, and $1,000 on Oct. 22, 1998, according to the charges. FEC reports show Doyle Carper of Idabel gave those exact amounts on those dates.
Carper is the former Oklahoma deputy health commissioner who pleaded guilty in September to conspiring with four so-called "ghost" employees to defraud the state.
According to the charges, Spears arranged for the $67,500 to Roberts to buy media advertising; the check was allegedly from her boss' account. She is accused of lying to the FEC in a sworn deposition in 2000 and in a written statement a month later that the money was to buy cattle.
Spears also is accused of lying to the FEC in regards to proceeds from an "art auction" held by Roberts in September 1998 to raise money for his campaign. According to the charges, Spears falsely told the FEC that a check for $45,250 written by her boss (C-1) to his longtime friend (C-2) was not a reimbursement for purchases made by people at the auction.
Also, I noticed the name Thetford is connected there. I used to play in a band w/ Walt for some of these little political shindigs, and he'd hire this old guitar player named Thetford who actually had so little rhythm it was a wonder he was able to procreate. Never on the beat and came in early, but that's another story.
Seriously, if I was Walt, I'd be installing a high dollar alarm system and having someone else start my car. You don't screw with the Dark Prince of Little Dixie and not watch your back.
No way Gene goes gently into that good night. I saw that Walt is supposed to be sentenced on July 15th, that gives him four months to (live) sing about his dealings with Gene so the Feds can set the hook.
On the other hand, did you see Stipe's quote that he had "stories to tell and books to write?" If that dude starts naming names Oklahoma won't have a state government left. It'll be worse than the county commissioner scandal(s) of the 70s.
This is like one of those bad old horror movies, I'm not believing Gene's gone until they drag his casket out of the state house into the sunlight and Stipe turns to dust. :)
I agree with you on witness protection. There is a whole lot of mountain and forest in SE OK to get rid of a little dirty laundry, and plenty of slack jawed yokels who'd do it for a C-note.