Former Senate leader Mike Morgan spoke in a clear voice at his arraignment Wednesday in a public corruption case, telling a judge, “My plea is not guilty.”
Attorney Martin Stringer was next, saying, “Not guilty on everything.” Lobbyist Andrew Skeith then had his turn, saying, “Not guilty, your honor.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie K. Couch allowed the three to remain free after each personally promised her to make future court appearances. She did not require them to post any bail. She gave them until noon Friday to surrender their passports.
She scheduled a jury trial for May, but a delay is almost certain. Morgan's attorney, David Ogle, said later he does not expect the case to go to trial next month because of its complexity.
A federal grand jury March 30 indicted Morgan, 56, of Stillwater, Stringer, 70, of Oklahoma City, and Skeith, 52, of Edmond.
Their arraignment Wednesday in Oklahoma City federal court lasted 13 minutes.
The three are charged together with two counts of conspiracy, one count of extortion and 59 counts of mail fraud. Morgan faces an additional count of bribery.
They could be sent to federal prison and fined if convicted.
The grand jury alleges Morgan, a Democrat, accepted more than $400,000 in illegal payments from three companies to use his position in the Senate to help them. Grand jurors allege Martin and Skeith conspired with him to help two of the companies.
The grand jury said payments mailed to Morgan were disguised as checks for his legal services.
Ogle has said Morgan, an attorney, was paid for legitimate legal work, including assistance with litigation.
Ogle also has described the investigation and indictment of Morgan as politically motivated. U.S. Attorney Sandy Coats called that claim absurd.
Morgan was Senate president pro tempore or co-president pro tempore from March 2005 until November 2008, according to the indictment.