Former state Senate leader Mike Morgan was sentenced Tuesday to probation on his bribery conviction after more than 400 supporters wrote letters to the judge urging leniency.
“You are well-loved in the community, in many communities,” U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron said.
The longtime judge put Morgan on probation for five years.
She ordered him to complete 104 hours of community service and to pay a $100 special assessment to the federal government.
Morgan, 57, of Stillwater, was not fined but must forfeit $12,000 to the federal government. He had faced up to 10 years in federal prison.
The judge announced his punishment after a three-hour hearing at the Oklahoma City federal courthouse. “Yes!” whispered one Morgan supporter. Others wept.
A teary-eyed Morgan hugged several.
Outside the courthouse, a smiling Morgan thanked his family, friends and attorneys for sustaining him “through a nightmare that I wouldn't wish on any living person.”
“The last nine years of my life have been indescribable,” he told news reporters. “I'm looking forward today to the future for the first time in a long time.”
Jurors in March found Morgan, a Democrat, guilty of accepting $12,000 in bribes to influence legislation in 2007.
He was paid $1,000 a month for a year by an Edmond company that operated assisted-living centers. Prosecutors accused Morgan, an attorney, of disguising the bribes as monthly retainer fees.
Morgan at trial denied the payments were bribes. He said Tuesday he still may appeal.
“I didn't commit any crime. I am innocent of this crime, and I think someday, somehow, the truth will come out, and that will be proven,” he told reporters.
Federal prosecutors had sought a significant, lengthy prison term to deter other public officials “tempted by corruption.”
Morgan had sought probation. His attorney said Morgan will no longer be able to practice law because of the conviction. The attorney also said Morgan has spent more than $200,000 on legal fees because of the case.
“His life has been forever changed,” the defense attorney, Jack Fisher, told the judge.
Prosecutors clearly were disappointed in the judge's decision on punishment, but they promised in a news release later to continue to fight public corruption.
“Both the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI remain committed as ever to the pursuit of public corruption cases and holding accountable any public officials who abuse their positions for personal gain,” U.S. Attorney Sanford Coats said.
About the case
Morgan was Senate president pro tem in 2005 and 2006. He was Senate co-president pro tem in 2007 and 2008.
He was indicted in 2011, along with a lobbyist and a prominent Oklahoma City attorney. Morgan originally faced 63 counts.
At his trial last year, prosecutors presented evidence Morgan took $12,000 in bribes from the assisted-living company, $250,000 in bribes from an energy company and $141,666 in bribes from a landfill company. He insisted he provided the companies legal services.
Prosecutors dropped a conspiracy count during the trial because of rulings by the judge.
Jurors convicted Morgan of only one felony count — bribery.
Jurors acquitted Morgan of fraud counts involving the energy company.
Jurors also acquitted him of a conspiracy count involving the landfill company. They deadlocked on other felony counts involving the landfill company. Prosecutors elected not to retry Morgan on those counts.
Despite the outcome at trial, prosecutors still wanted the judge to consider the energy company's payments and landfill company's payments to Morgan in deciding his sentence. Prosecutors also asked her to consider against Morgan payments made to him by a lobbyist and by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives.
The judge refused, saying all of the evidence was as consistent with innocence as it is with guilt.
In announcing her decision on punishment, the judge noted that Morgan was charged with a lot of counts but only convicted of one.
She also noted that the conviction was based on what she called “suspect evidence” — the testimony of “a convicted felon.”
Sam Crosby, the owner of the assisted-living company, was awaiting sentencing on a bank fraud case when he testified against Morgan.
The judge noted during the sentence how impressed she was that more than 400 supporters of Morgan wrote her letters.
They included two U.S. congressmen, university presidents, legislators, lobbyists, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former Oklahoma State University basketball coach Eddie Sutton.
The judge acknowledged Tuesday that a prison term could deter officials from crime. She said the publicity about Morgan's case, the impact on his health and finances, and the loss of his legal practice “would surely deter others.”
The outcome Tuesday was not a complete surprise because the judge has been critical of the prosecution's evidence before.
Morgan said, “She understands the weakness of this case.”
At trial, the judge dismissed all the counts against the lobbyist who had been indicted with Morgan and half the counts against the prominent Oklahoma City attorney. Jurors found the attorney not guilty on the remaining counts.
The judge explained she dismissed the counts because the prosecution's “offered proof was nothing other than inference piled on inference.”