Prosecutors in Oaks Corruption Case Dismiss Claims of Entrapment, Release New Transcripts
By William F. Zorzi
In the escalating war of pretrial motions, prosecutors in the public corruption case against Maryland state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks are pushing back hard against defense assertions that the West Baltimore Democrat was entrapped by federal authorities in the ongoing probe.
Responding to a memorandum last month by federal public defenders that Oaks (D) was induced by the government to engage in an alleged bribery scheme, Kathleen O. Gavin and Leo J. Wise, the two assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case, argue that the defense “virtually ignores … undisputable evidence” of criminal activity by Oaks, as secretly recorded by the government.
Gavin and Wise dismiss the defense claim as being “unsupported by any actual facts.”
“The defendant’s alleged entrapment evidence does not even amount to solicitation to commit a crime, much less overreaching or improper conduct by the government,” Gavin and Wise wrote in the government’s memorandum, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
“Just because the defendant says there is evidence of ‘inducement’ does not mean there is,” they wrote. “Mischaracterizing the actual evidence as ‘an unrelenting barrage of inordinate persuasion to lure [Oaks] into this manufactured offense’ … does not create evidence of entrapment.”
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett last month warned Oaks’ defense attorneys, Lucius T. Outlaw III and Rebecca S. Talbott, to be more civil – and presumably less hyperbolic — in the tone of their filings, which prompted an apology in court from Outlaw.
Oaks’ defense lawyers asked Bennett last month to agree – before the actual trial, now scheduled for April — to explain entrapment to the yet-unselected jury, bolstering their claim that the government entrapped Oaks with details of meetings and conversations based on sealed discovery information.
The prosecution’s stinging 31-page opposition to the defense claim is accompanied by nearly 170 pages of the government’s draft of partial transcripts of telephone wiretaps and body-wire recordings.
While the names of confidential sources and other parties to the conversations are redacted, the transcripts offer the first real picture of the actual conversational back-and-forth between Oaks and others involved in the case.
Some of the dialogue is in shorthand, occasionally laced with profanity and can be difficult to follow, but on the surface, Oaks does not appear to be under any pressure from anyone to act one way or another. The inclusion of the transcripts is designed to support the prosecution’s case that Oaks was a willing participant all along.
Discrepancy over elected official
There is at least one unexplained, and obvious, discrepancy between the defense and prosecution filings regarding who attended an Aug. 14, 2014, breakfast meeting in Ocean City with Oaks about a minority-owned construction company, Professional Maintenance Systems Inc., that specializes in graffiti removal.
The defense, in an earlier filing, refers to a “now-former member of the Baltimore City Council,” known thereafter as “Council Member X,” while the prosecution refers to that same person as “a Baltimore County Council Member.”
Additionally, in its earlier filing, the defense refers to a confidential source at the meeting as “S-00063808,” while the prosecution calls the same person the “confidential witness,” or “the CW,” a designation the government has used in earlier paperwork.
In a second set of filings Friday, prosecutors urged Bennett to deny defense motions filed last month to dismiss seven of 10 charges against Oaks – one count of “honest service wire fraud,” five counts of violating the federal Travel Act and one count of obstruction of justice.
Nine of the charges are related to allegations that the lawmaker took $15,300 in a bribery scheme involving an FBI confidential source, known as “Mike Henley,” who posed as a Texas businessman wanting to do business in Baltimore.
The single obstruction count stems from allegations that while Oaks was supposed to be cooperating with federal investigators, he tipped off a target in the bail-bonds industry, known only as “Person #1” in court papers, to the existence of a corruption probe.
Federal public defenders last month convinced Bennett that Oaks should be tried on the obstruction charge separately from the fraud case. His trial on the nine fraud charges is scheduled to begin April 16, a week after the Maryland General Assembly adjourns.
A trial on the obstruction of justice charge has not been set.
Oaks has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The prosecution’s 31-page objection to the defense motion details contact between “the CW” and Oaks from August 2014, until, Sept. 21, 2015, when the lawmaker finally met “Mike Henley,” the FBI’s undercover source.
That 13-month period included four face-to-face meetings, nine telephone conversations – five of which were considered “substantive in nature” – and various voicemail and text messages about scheduling between Oaks and “the CW.”
The CW met with Oaks for the third time Feb. 9, 2015, at an Annapolis bar along with another “elected official at Oaks’ suggestion” during an earlier Jan. 19, 2015, meeting to discuss the source’s desire to help PMSI, a minority-owned business, get work in Baltimore. Oaks attended only part of the meeting because of a commitment in the General Assembly, the memo states.
The CW also ran into Oaks at a March 2015 political fundraiser and had a brief conversation, the memo states. No other detail about the fundraiser is included.
During a fourth meeting, on June 17, 2015, the CW met for lunch with Oaks and the legislator’s longtime friend Bruce Crockett, now deceased, again to discuss PMSI, which was having trouble getting its Minority Business Enterprise recertification renewed in the city.
Seeking Ravens tickets
The conversation, however, turned to season tickets to the Ravens games, which the CW and Crockett had discussed at an earlier meeting. Oaks told the CW he wanted two tickets and, after he thought about it, a parking pass.
“If you could … if you could stretch that without it being a problem,” Oaks told the CW. “Three of those type would be fine. Three.”
“OK,” the source said.
“Then that way, he [Crockett] might have somebody one week, or I might, and we just have to worry about um ….” he told the CW. “I … I sometime and he sometime can muster up a ticket, correct?”
At another point, Oaks said he did not care particularly where the seats were – they could be the cheaper “just to get in” seats — because once he was in the gate, he found his way to the stadium’s club level. Crockett had told the CW earlier that in the past he had accompanied Oaks to the governor’s skybox, the mayor’s box and even the Maryland Stadium Authority’s skybox.
On Aug. 5, 2015, the CW gave Crockett $2,700 to pay for the Ravens season tickets for Crockett and Oaks, the prosecution memo states.
In later conversations with “Mike Henley,” Oaks acknowledged that he knew that Henley had paid for the tickets in exchange for the lawmaker’s help with PMSI’s recertification, the memo states.
On March 2, 2016, Oaks and Henley “spent the better part of the day together.” At one point, Oaks confided to Henley that he had accepted free hotel rooms, meals and drinks from others, specifically mentioning a lobbyist and a bail bond business owner.
Sprinkled throughout the transcripts are generally unspecific references from different sources about the money to be made from the millions being spent by state and local governments on school construction and about compromised government bidding processes.
At one point, in a long conversation on March 2, 2016, Oaks seemed to wax philosophical – and, as it turned out, ironical – to the individual identified only as Source #1.
“Politics is scary,” Source #1 said.
“Yeah, it is,” Oaks replied, “because mother—— go in there, wanna, wanna get rich. You don’t go in, you don’t go in politics, I told them little kids just now, the little white kids and all, I said, look, the one thing you don’t do, is you don’t get into politics to get rich, because the only thing you is guaranteed is that you’re goin’ to jail. If you’re going there because you’re gonna try to skate the rules, people try to create the new rules because you wanna get rich quick.
“That’s why you gotta watch these ambitious son-of-a-bitches out here, because they can, they can take your ass down. I, I came this far, this long. Not, not a bad lookin’ guy. Dress fairly well. Got my own s—. I don’t know. I don’t really need anything. Something that we all like to perpetuate and get, get s— up, you know, look out for some folks here and there.”
Source #1, stopped him, saying, “But I don’t think that when, when somebody helpin’, I don’t think … everybody planned takin’ care of each other. I don’t think they’re tryin’ to make you rich, are they?
“No,” Oaks said, “but I’m saying, … the point I’m makin’ is that when you go into this, you can help some folk and you can live comfortably, or you think you can help the world and then, and then you gonna have one little son-of-a-bitches in there working for the FBI or something like that. OK?”
The two talked bit longer.
“When you planning on playing, you gotta watch who you gettin’ in bed with,” Oaks said.
“But you don’t never know,” Source #1 said. “This what I worry about.”
“You don’t know,” Oaks said.