OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The powerful former leader of the Oklahoma Senate was sentenced to five years' probation Tuesday after being convicted of taking a $12,000 bribe in exchange for his influence on legislation.
Former Senate President Pro-Tem Mike Morgan had faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He was convicted on a federal bribery charge in March, though jurors acquitted him of related extortion and mail fraud counts and couldn't reach a verdict on other counts.
U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron issued the sentence and declined to impose a fine on Morgan, 57, a lawyer from Stillwater. Morgan will have to forfeit $12,000
Some of Morgan's family members and friends in the courtroom whispered "Yes!" as Cauthron announced the sentence. Afterward, a teary-eyed Morgan embraced them as many wept.
"I love you all," Morgan said. "God bless my family, my friends. They believed in me. They stood by me."
Morgan said he intends to appeal his conviction and repeated assertions he has made since he was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2011 that he did not commit a crime.
"I am very relieved that the judge has granted probation," Morgan said. "She understands the weakness of this case. I am innocent."
In sentencing Morgan, Cauthron noted he was originally charged with 63 counts but convicted of only one, and she said much of the evidence produced by federal prosecutors was suspect.
"You were charged with a lot. You were convicted of very little," Cauthron told Morgan as he stood at the defense table next to defense attorney Jack Fisher.
The judge also indicated she was impressed by the more than 400 letters she received requesting leniency for Morgan. Among those writing on Morgan's behalf were three former governors, current and former lawmakers, tribal leaders and other elected officials.
"I think the letters probably spoke volumes," Morgan said afterward.
Prosecutors had sought prison time for Morgan in what U.S. Attorney Sanford Coats said was "one of the most significant public corruption cases in this district in decades."
"While this was not the sentence for which we advocated, the determination of sentencing in federal court is within the discretion of the judge," Coats said in a statement.
The grand jury indictment accused the Democrat of taking $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 insisted the money was payment for legal fees for work he did for the companies and that he never sacrificed his "independent judgment" when voting on legislation. Prosecutors claimed Morgan did no legal work for the companies.
Jurors weren't so sure. They convicted Morgan only on a single bribery count that accused him of taking the $12,000 from the assisted-living center in exchange for attempting to influence legislation that would have eased regulations on the state's nursing home industry. As part of his sentence, Morgan will forfeit that money, Coats said.
All charges against a co-defendant, lobbyist William Andrew Skeith, were dismissed after prosecutors rested their case. The judge also dismissed half of the counts against another co-defendant, attorney N. Martin Stringer, and the jury acquitted him on the rest.
Morgan had asked Cauthron to sentence him to probation, arguing that his years of public service and devotion to the state and its people merited leniency.
Fisher said the case had already cost Morgan, who accumulated more than $200,000 in legal bills and will likely have to surrender his license to practice law.
"His life has been forever changed," Fisher said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Williams urged Cauthron to impose "a meaningful sentence of imprisonment," arguing that the bribery conviction was "a serious crime" that merited time behind bars.
"This type of arrangement is a serious problem," Williams said.