Convicted blackmailer Al Gerhart has created a parody website attacking the senator who turned him in.
“This is America,” Sen. Cliff Branan said Tuesday. “As long as he is not threatening and he is abiding by our Oklahoma ethics rules, he can proceed as he wants.
“He, of all people, should know I’m not somebody who will be bullied. I have a record of standing up against political pressure.”
Branan, R-Oklahoma City, is now running for a seat on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Gerhart, a co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party, calls the senator a bigot. Gerhart acknowledged in an interview with The Oklahoman that he is behind the website, ElectBrananTheBigot.com.
A jury last week convicted Gerhart, 55, of blackmail for sending Branan an email in March 2013 demanding passage of a bill in a Senate committee. Branan is chairman of that committee.
The jury also found Gerhart guilty of violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act for using a computer to accomplish the blackmail.
Jurors chose as punishment a fine of $1,000.
Gerhart, an Oklahoma City carpenter, had faced up to 10 years in prison and $15,000 in fines on the two felony offenses.
The senator did not give in to the blackmail, instead reporting it to the Nichols Hills police chief. The bill died when it was not heard in the Senate committee.
In the email, misspelling one word, Gerhart wrote: “Branan, Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don’t hear that this bill will be heard and passed. We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise.”
The parody website begins: “Hello, I’m Clifford B. Branan the Third but you can call me Clifford B. Branan the Third.”
On the website, Gerhart uses quotes from Branan’s interview with an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent in April 2013. Prosecutors turned over recordings of the interview to Gerhart’s defense attorneys before trial.
Gerhart specifically criticizes Branan for having a secretary screen emails and for saying at trial and in the OSBI interview that he doesn’t run around with people on the fringe.
“The definition of bigot is someone that doesn’t like a particular class of people or, more specifically, he doesn’t like people that are not of his class,” Gerhart said.
He said the Sooner Tea Party plans to put thousands of little signs critical of Branan across the state. “We’re going to let the people of Oklahoma know what kind of person he is,” Gerhart said.
In the 2013 OSBI interview, Branan told the agent, “I distance myself — you know — from any of the crazies. I make an effort just to never, never co-mingle and rub elbows with any of these people.”
Gerhart intends to appeal his conviction.
“We’re all excited about the appeal. We get a chance to strike down this law. It’s definitely an unconstitutional law,” he said.