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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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10th Circuit Orders Politician Resentenced

(CN) - A former Oklahoma State Senate President Pro Tem who was sentenced to probation for bribery must be resentenced, the 10th Circuit ordered Friday.

Michael Morgan, 57, of Stillwater, was convicted in Oklahoma City Federal Court of one count of bribery in March 2012.

Jurors reportedly deadlocked or acquitted him of 61 other counts, 33 of them felonies. He faced up to 10 years in federal prison.

Prosecutors said Morgan, an attorney, accepted 12 bribes of $1,000 each, disguised as legal fees from Silver Oak Senior Living Center, an assisted-living center operator, in exchange for favorable treatment in the Legislature.

They told jurors he wrote Senate Bill 738, which became law in 2007 and helped Silver Oak by lifting regulatory burdens.

Morgan asked for a new trial, claiming the government failed to disclose "tacit agreements" with a witness. He also said the evidence was insufficient to convict and that the jury was not properly instructed on specific intent.

A three-judge panel on the 10th Circuit disagreed, affirming the conviction and reversing and remanding to the trial court for resentencing.

Writing for the panel, Judge Terrence L. O'Brien said Morgan must be resentenced because appropriate punishment for the crime "demands a significant period" in federal prison.

"Not only did he violate his oath, he violated the trust of his electorate," the 54-page opinion states. "The entire public suffers as a result and ought not be requested to tolerate a sentence amount grossly at odds with the sentencing guidelines and amounting to little more than a slap on the wrist."

O'Brien disagreed with Morgan's claim of lack of evidence, finding the jury's "decision is rationally supported" by it.

"Perhaps the hallmark of our jury system is the jury's role in resolving uncertainty. It, alone, is left to find the facts," the opinion states. "And the fruits of its effort lie in the verdict. The jury could have believed Morgan's version of events but did not. Instead, this jury determined Morgan demanded retainer fees with the intent to 'help' [Silver Oak part-owner Sam] Crosby through his position as an influential legislator."

U.S. Attorney Sanford C. Coats said Friday that he and his staff "look forward" to Morgan's resentencing.

"We are pleased with the 10th Circuit's detailed and thorough review of all appellate issues and their conclusions that Senator Morgan received a fair trial, that the jury's guilty verdict was supported by the evidence, and that a new sentencing hearing is warranted," Coats said in a statement. "As I have said since the day this case was charged, the sale of political influence by an elected official is simply not acceptable and corruption betrays the public trust."

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