OKLAHOMA CITY — An energy company executive told a 12-member jury Wednesday the company hired the former leader of the Oklahoma Senate for his legal services and that payments he received were not a bribe.
But Brad Cox, vice president of power development company Tenaska Inc., also said he was not aware of any legal services performed by former Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan while he was paid a total of $250,000.
Morgan, 57, of Stillwater, is charged with federal bribery, extortion, conspiracy and mail fraud. He is accused of conspiring with lobbyist William Andrew Skeith, 53, of Edmond, and attorney N. Martin Stringer, 71, of Oklahoma City, to illegally accept more than $400,000 from Tenaska and two other companies that sought his influence on pending legislation between 2005 and 2008.
Skeith and Stringer are charged with conspiracy, extortion and mail fraud. All have pleaded not guilty.
Morgan’s defense attorney, David Ogle, told jurors in his opening statement that the payments to Morgan were for his legal services. Federal prosecutors allege Morgan performed no legal work for the money.
Cox testified that the company hired Morgan in connection with a proposed 600-megawatt, coal-fired plant for the Grand River Dam Authority that was never built. He said Tenaska was interested in legislation filed in 2005 that would have raised GRDA’s bonded indebtedness ceiling to help facilitate the power plant project.
Under cross-examination by Ogle, Cox said the measure was assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee and died when it was not given a hearing although Morgan, who was being paid by Tenaska, was chairman of the committee at the time.
“A very unsuccessful bribe, correct?” Ogle said.
“There was no bribe,” Cox replied.
“Exactly,” Ogle said.
Cox said there was never a specific request for Morgan to perform legislative work for the company and that Tenaska never communicated with Morgan to thank him for his legislative work on the company’s behalf.
“I’ve never seen a document along those lines,” Cox said.
Cox also testified that Tenaska sent Morgan an email asking Morgan to answer a series of research questions about the power plant project because Morgan was on a legal retainer with the company. A week later, Cox said he sent Morgan a follow-up email inquiring about his progress.
“I never received a response from Mr. Morgan,” Cox said. But he said he was not surprised he did not receive a quick response because the questions Tenaska posed were complicated.
“They would have required significant research,” he said. The questions were eventually answered by a former law partner of Stringer’s who testified it took more than two months to prepare the answers.
Cox said he was not aware of any legal work Morgan did for the company and that his payments stopped in November 2008 when Morgan left office.
Evidence introduced during Cox’s testimony disclosed that state Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, was also retained by Tenaska affiliate Kiowa Power Partners LLC, which operates a 1220-megawatt generating station in Pittsburg County. Lerblance did not immediately return calls to his office and cellphone from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Following Wednesday’s testimony, Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Williams said prosecutors plan to conclude their case by the end of the week. Testimony began last week and U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron has said the trial could last up to four weeks.
If convicted, each of the defendants faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count of conspiracy, extortion and wire fraud. Morgan faces an additional penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the bribery count. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of the alleged illegal payments to Morgan.