DENVER — Appellate judges Thursday upheld the corruption convictions of former Oklahoma state Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan and cited examples of favors he gave in return for bribes he took.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 23-page unanimous decision by a three-judge panel, also affirmed his sentence to prison for eight years and one month.
"The evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that McMahan accepted bribes from Phipps with the intent to allow his official action to be influenced," the judges wrote, referring to southeastern Oklahoma businessman Steve Phipps.
Guilty on 3 counts
McMahan, 50, was convicted in 2008 in Muskogee of two counts of interstate travel to meet Phipps to facilitate bribery and one count of conspiracy to deprive Oklahoma citizens of their right to honest public service.
He is serving a prison term imposed by U.S. District Judge James Payne.
McMahan testified at trial that he did not know of the conspiracy and denied he ever corruptly accepted anything with the intent that his official action be influenced.
"The jury heard evidence that Phipps underwrote a sizable percentage of McMahan's 2002 campaign, funded several of McMahan's trips (after the election) and bestowed a variety of other gifts" on him and his wife, Lori, the Denver-based court said.
"Further, the evidence revealed that in return for Phipps' contributions, McMahan provided several favors to Phipps in his official capacity as state auditor," the judges wrote.
The judges also cited how McMahan tried to influence state legislators in an effort to help a chain of title abstracting companies owned by Phipps and former state Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester. The auditor's office regulated the abstracting industry.
The judges listed examples of McMahan's favors to Phipps: "delaying a potential competitor's application to open an abstract company, working to defeat legislation aimed at eliminating the abstracting industry, helping Phipps funnel state appropriations to his companies more directly and filing an action against the entities owned by Phipps and Stipe to help Phipps put pressure on Stipe to liquidate their partnership."
After Stipe pleaded guilty to federal election law crimes, McMahan acceded to Phipps' request to put pressure on Stipe to sell his share of the abstracting companies to Phipps, the judges wrote.
U.S. Attorney Sheldon Sperling said the court's decision "reflects the sad, tragic reality of past state public official corruption. This component of a sad political history has been relegated to the trash heap of history."
McMahan's appellate attorney, Carolyn Merritt of Oklahoma City, did not respond to a request for comment.
Phipps was convicted separately of conspiracy to deprive Oklahoma citizens of honest public services by mail fraud and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Lori McMahan, 45, was convicted of the same crimes as her husband and is serving a sentence of six years and six months.
Besides rejecting McMahan's claims of insufficient evidence, the judges rejected his other challenges, including alleging that Payne made numerous serious errors in excluding favorable evidence and in instructing jurors about what evidence was needed to find McMahan guilty.