©Copyright 2012 The Oklahoman
The FBI gave a lobbyist $10,000 to make illegal campaign contributions to two Oklahoma legislators during a 2008 undercover operation, federal prosecutors revealed last week.
The FBI created a fake Georgia company for the undercover operation. That company then hired an unsuspecting lobbyist, Andy Skeith, to promote its interests, records show.
Skeith, 53, of Edmond, was acquitted this year at a federal political corruption trial of extortion, conspiracy and mail fraud counts.
He was not charged for anything he did for the undercover company. His role has come up again because he wants the federal government to pay his defense expenses.
The federal prosecutors allege Skeith violated state laws while working for the fake company. His defense attorney, Warren Gotcher, contends Skeith did nothing wrong.
“They spent a lot of money for nothing. It all showed that Andy was doing things like he was supposed to do,” Gotcher said. “I don't know that he violated any state laws. Nobody's looked at that. They certainly didn't make any referrals to any state agencies.
“The bottom line is that lobbyists give campaign contributions all the time,” the defense attorney said. “They're not paying for anything other than that somebody will at least know who the heck they are. It's just a cost of doing business.”
The Oklahoman first reported in February about the FBI's phony company, Road Safety International LLC.
Last week's legal filing, though, reveals new details about the undercover operation. Most significantly, it shows the lengths to which the FBI went to make the company appear legitimate to Skeith and others.
Those lengths include supplying $10,000 to Skeith to make donations to two legislators in a way that violated Oklahoma's campaign laws, according to the prosecutors' filing.
Ethics breach claimed
The prosecutors reported Skeith, who also is an attorney, created a fictitious invoice for “legal research” to disguise why he was getting the money. Prosecutors reported it was Skeith's idea to make the donations in his name.
“Mr. Skeith committed a crime under Oklahoma law by facilitating a conduit contribution,” prosecutors reported to a judge. “To shield the company from public disclosure of its financial support for the legislators, he knowingly and willfully evaded Ethics Commission rules on reporting the sources of contributions.”
Prosecutors also reported, “He assured the company representatives that the two legislators knew the company wanted legislation and were ‘on board.' He also commented that ‘you won't get f - - - - - by the people you give money to.'”
Undercover agents at times must get involved in breaking the law to maintain their covers. It happens all the time in undercover drug operations, officials say.
Any state charges out of the undercover operation would be unlikely at this point because of limits on how long after a crime a prosecution can began.
Prosecutors do not disclose which legislators received the donations Skeith made with the $10,000 in FBI funds. The Oklahoman could not independently identify the legislators from 2008 campaign reports. The Oklahoman also could not verify Skeith used all of the $10,000 for donations.
The FBI's fake company gave Skeith $10,000 in June 2008 to make the donations. State Treasurer Ken Miller, then a state representative, reported getting a $5,000 donation from Skeith in July 2008.
Miller told The Oklahoman Friday that Skeith signed a contributor card stating that the contribution was freely given from personal funds.
Miller also said: “During my time as House budget chairman, I had many meetings with those seeking to do business with the state. I remember meeting with representatives from a company selling road reflectors who asked that I author a bill requiring use of their product. I rejected their request and recommended they speak with state transportation officials.”
The FBI's phony company also paid for several expensive dinners with legislators in 2008, the prosecutors revealed. Three of the dinners cost more than $1,500, prosecutors said.
Operation is revealed
The existence of the undercover operation came to light after Skeith, former Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan and prominent Oklahoma City attorney Martin Stringer were indicted last year.
Morgan was accused in the federal indictment of taking more than $400,000 in bribes from three companies seeking to influence legislation. Skeith and Stringer were accused of conspiring in crimes involving two of the companies.
At a trial this year, a judge dismissed all 62 felony counts against Skeith. In her order of acquittal, the judge wrote the prosecution's “proof was nothing other than inference piled on inference.”
Stringer also was acquitted at the same trial. The judge dismissed some of Stringer's counts and the jury acquitted him of the others.
A jury found Morgan guilty of accepting $12,000 in bribes from only one of the companies. Morgan is awaiting sentencing.
FBI agents used traditional means to gather the evidence that led to the indictment of Morgan and the others.
Skeith's attorneys brought up the undercover operation when they asked U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron to make the federal government pay his legal expenses. His attorneys wrote he spent $141,000 “in legal fees defending this absurd prosecution.”
His attorneys argued prosecutors committed clear misconduct by pursuing a frivolous case against Skeith. The attorneys argued the undercover operation proved that Skeith would not violate the law. “The FBI unsuccessfully attempted to get ... Skeith to buy off politicians with government funds, multiple times,” the attorneys wrote.
Prosecutors asked the judge to deny Skeith's request. About the undercover operation, they told the judge it “certainly did not lead to the conclusion that Mr. Skeith was an upstanding lobbyist. Indeed, it confirmed his willingness to violate the law.”