NORMAN — The state multicounty grand jury will investigate whether Cleveland County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan violated the law when he accepted $19,900 in state funds from a road project he voted for, The Oklahoman has learned.
The state paid Sullivan and his wife in March 2011 to compensate them for damage to their property from improvements to Etowah Road near Noble. They live on about nine acres at 6900 E Etowah Road.
The state also paid about 100 other property owners along the six-mile stretch covered by the project. The commissioner and his wife donated the land for the right of way, giving up an additional $1,150 payment.
Sullivan, 61, denied wrongdoing.
“I think that I've made some powerful, political enemies because I'm nobody's boy. I vote my mind,” he told The Oklahoman Thursday.
“I think it's a political witch hunt honestly. I think they've timed this thing where it will come out before my primary. ... Even though I've done nothing wrong, the damage will be done. ... I think there's some folks that would rather have someone else than me because I'm pretty conservative in what I believe and what I do. I really believe that's what this is about.”
He did not name his enemies.
Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said he asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into the payment to Sullivan.
“I asked the OSBI to look into it. Once they began wrapping up their investigation, I recused and asked the attorney general's office to take it from there,” Mashburn said.
He took himself off any decision in the case because one of his assistants at the time was involved in the process.
An OSBI special agent notified county commissioners by letter in August that “this office is investigating criminal allegations surrounding the Etowah Road Project.” Sullivan confirmed he spoke with an OSBI agent for about 15 minutes last year.
Assistant Attorney General Megan Tilly, who advises the multicounty grand jury, said she could not confirm any pending investigation.
Grand jurors meet next week but are not expected to review the road project until February.
In September 2010, Sullivan and the two other county commissioners at the time signed an agreement with the state Transportation Department so the $9.4 million project could proceed.
State transportation officials said 1,200 to 1,700 vehicles travel along the road every day. Completion of the project is expected in February. The project included lowering hills, adding shoulders and improving pavement conditions.
Sullivan, a Republican, is completing his second four-year term as county commissioner.
“This road was just a pig trail,” Sullivan said. “It was a poor road and one of the most traveled roads out there.”
The state paid Sullivan and his wife for the 14 trees and seven crape myrtle shrubs that were removed because of the road project. They also were paid so they could replace a chain link fence, relocate two gates and repair an asphalt drive.
“In front of my house right now, it's just barren,” Sullivan said. “It's just a barren hill.”
Sullivan said an appraiser was hired to determine how much compensation he was due for the damage to his property. He said another expert then was hired at the suggestion of transportation officials to review that appraisal.
He said an assistant district attorney and a transportation official signed off on how much he was paid.
“I've done nothing wrong. This is as clean a deal as you can do. We went out of our way to make it so transparent,” he said. “I know I'm perfectly clean.”