Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is making a new allegation about the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board — that members have illegally changed their votes.
“Additionally, any time they changed a previously cast vote, outside of public scrutiny, I view that as a violation as well,” Prater wrote the board's defense attorney last week.
“We found several instances of that,” Prater wrote.
Prater last year launched a criminal investigation of the parole board after concluding it blatantly violated the state Open Meeting Act. His initial allegation was that the board illegally took up early release requests without proper public notice.
Board members have denied violating the law.
The board's chairman, Tulsa minister Marc Dreyer, acknowledged Monday that a board member sometimes changes his or her vote an hour or a day after the initial vote. He said any changes, though, will be before the meeting ends.
He said a monthly meeting lasts three to four days, and an announcement is made each day that votes are not final until the board adjourns.
“Every one of those votes occurs in the public meeting,” Dreyer said of any changes. “Now, is there anybody present in the room? Gosh ... probably for at least half of the board meeting there isn't anybody there except for the security people. But it's still an open, public meeting.”
Email mentions new claim
The initial allegation against the board was detailed in a letter Prater sent to the board's executive director last August.
The new allegation is mentioned in a confidential email Prater sent the evening of Jan. 29 to defense attorney Mack Martin. The Oklahoman obtained two of Prater's Jan. 29 emails from a source.
Prater in January offered not to file criminal charges against the board members if they would resign. The proposal called for board members to resign in stages so the parole process would not be disrupted.
He gave board members a deadline of 5 p.m. last Friday to decide. All five board members rejected the offer.
Prater is expected to file dozens of criminal counts later this month against the five members — Dreyer; Currie Ballard, of Langston; Lynnell Harkins, of Moore; David Moore, of Edmond; and Richard L. Dugger, of Oklahoma City.
“Everything will be laid out in a public document at a later date,” Prater said Monday.
A violation of the Open Meeting Act is a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is a $500 fine and a year in jail.
A tough stance
Prater's two Jan. 29 emails show he took a position of take it or leave it on his deal offer.
“With all due respect to you, Mack, I will not negotiate further with your clients. This matter needs to be resolved as soon as possible, by agreement or through the criminal justice process,” he wrote in his second email.
The prosecutor refused to give the defense attorney a further outline of his allegations. He wrote the board members needed to review his August letter if they had any questions.
In his first email, Prater wrote, “If an acceptance of my offer by your clients is not communicated by Friday, I will proceed with filing criminal charges. I will not extend my offer beyond Friday, February 1st. I understand that you are extremely busy, but this matter has taken far too long to resolve. I believe it in everyone's best interests to have this inked by the beginning of the legislative session.”
Prater told The Oklahoman on Monday he wanted to get the resignation agreements finalized so it wouldn't be mired in the politics of the coming legislative session.
Martin declined to comment on the new allegation mentioned in Prater's email. The defense attorney did say he was astonished that someone disclosed the confidential emails to The Oklahoman.
Governor supports board
Meanwhile, Gov. Mary Fallin continues to support board members.
The governor believes they “are well-intentioned public servants who deserve to be treated with respect,” a spokesman said.
“The governor has made it clear in the past that the board needed to pursue reforms aimed at improving transparency. The board has done that, and is currently overhauling its website to further improve the public's ability to track its activities,” the spokesman said. “She expects board members to continue to improve services and to operate in the most transparent and accountable way possible.”