Oklahoma corruption investigation targets plans to move wire transfer fee money

Rep. Randy Terrill, a target in a corruption probe, helped orchestrate plans to move wire transfer fee money to other public safety agencies, legislative records and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control e-mails show.

BY JOHN ESTUS and PAUL MONIES Modified: June 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm •  Published: June 8, 2010
© Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman

Lawmakers passed several bills diverting $900,000 from a special narcotics bureau fund in the closing days of the legislative session, including $90,000 now at the center of a political corruption investigation.

Rep. Randy Terrill, a target in the corruption probe, helped orchestrate plans to move wire transfer fee money to other public safety agencies, legislative records and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control e-mails show.

Terrill and others are under investigation in an alleged plot to give a Democratic lawmaker — state Sen. Debbe Leftwich — a new job at the medical examiner's office so a Republican could run for her seat.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is conducting the investigation. He has said he was told the $80,000- per-year job would have been paid for with money from a special fund for the narcotics bureau.

"The only thing that was ever said to me about what the money was being used for was, it was always ABLE's cars — ABLE commission cars — and that came from Randy (Terrill),” narcotics bureau Director Darrell Weaver said. ABLE is the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.

Weaver added: "They (legislators) told us there was going to be some money taken out. They said they had to shore up some holes with some agencies.”

He also said discussions typically centered on the amount of money needed, not its purpose.

Weaver on Friday, however, told The Oklahoman he thought the money intended for the medical examiner's office was going to be used to hire pathologists to do autopsies. He said Friday and Monday he didn't know the money was to be used for the office's new transition coordinator job.

State fees on cash wire transfers at places such as Western Union are put into the Drug Money Laundering and Wire Transmitter Revolving fund at Weaver's agency. The fees have raised about $5.7 million since they began last year, according to figures from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

Weaver said the money has been used to pay for operations at the narcotics bureau, which typically only receives about 60 percent of funding it needs from the Legislature.

The fee was created because the narcotics bureau found drug dealers were increasingly using wire transfers for drug deals, Weaver said.

Terrill, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee for public safety, helped create the wire transfer fee last year. The fees are assessed at more than 2,200 wire transmitters licensed by the state. Wire transfers at banks are not subject to the fees.

Fees are $5 for the first $500 transferred and 1 percent of any amount above that.


Examiner's office turmoil

The situation at the state medical examiner's office has been chaotic for at least the past three years. Among the difficulties:

• June 2007:
Kevin Rowland, the office's chief investigator, sends a letter to funeral directors and district attorneys warning of dire consequences if the medical examiner, Dr. Jeffery Gofton, goes through with his plans to resign. Rowland cites a backlog of autopsies and a shortage of funds and says the agency will lose its national accreditation. Legislators later approve nearly $1 million in emergency funding, including almost $50,000 for Gofton, who withdraws his resignation.

• June 2008:
Gofton quits amid concerns about his plan, never enacted, to shut down the Tulsa branch of the medical examiner's office. He later says he was forced out by lack of funding and Tulsa-area legislators and law enforcement. He had survived an investigative audit into organ harvesting, which found no wrongdoing, and an attempt to place the office under the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

• March 2009:
Facing increasing criticism and the possibility of criminal charges, Rowland resigns, citing job stress. So does a receptionist who was a convicted felon.

• July 2009:
The medical examiner's office loses its accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners, which finds 22 deficiencies; even one would've been grounds for pulling the accreditation. A few weeks later, Rob Deaton, who took over as interim chief investigator after Rowland quit, allegedly threatens to shoot someone at the Tulsa office, sparking a lockdown. The multicounty grand jury charges Rowland with four counts of sexual battery in Tulsa and one count in Oklahoma City; he is accused of touching three colleagues, two women and a man. He later pleads not guilty and is released on bail.

• January-March:
Tom Jordan is hired in January to serve as the chief administrative officer of the office. It's a new position. Jordan, formerly the deputy director of the OSBI, clashes with Dr. Collie M. Trant, the medical examiner. Trant is fired on Feb. 5 and later files a wrongful termination lawsuit, which is pending in Oklahoma City federal court. About two weeks later, Tulsa prosecutors change one of the charges against Rowland from sexual battery to first-degree rape. Four days after that, budget director Steve Slater is fired and Dr. Eric Duvall, the acting medical examiner, resigns. Legislators request an emergency audit of the office, which finds no evidence of fraud or criminal activity.

• April-May:
A House committee decides to relocate the medical examiner's office from Oklahoma City to Edmond. It will be near the University of Central Oklahoma Forensic Science Institute. Jordan resigns on May 24 to take a job in the private sector. Rowland is acquitted of improperly touching a male co-worker. A juror calls the case a waste of taxpayer money. Rowland's attorney says his client will sue the state, although he still faces the Tulsa charges.

• June:
Dr. Andrew Sibley is named the interim medical examiner. Gov. Brad Henry vetoes two bills that are the focus of a criminal corruption probe; both are associated with the medical examiner's office. Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City; Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, are under investigation.

Compiled by Staff Writer Ken Raymond

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