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Indicted former Oklahoma Senate leader had mixed success with commercial projects

A landfill in northern Oklahoma is close to approval, but coal-fired power plants stalled after legislative help from former Sen. Mike Morgan.
BY PAUL MONIES and RANDY ELLIS Published: April 1, 2011

An unpopular landfill in Kay County and proposed coal-fired power plants in eastern Oklahoma are among the commercial projects at the center of the federal indictment of a former Oklahoma Senate leader.

The projects involving former Sen. Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, met with mixed success.

A landfill by Dilworth Development Co. near Blackwell is close to final approval by the state Department of Environmental Quality. But plans for proposed power plants by Tenaska Inc. in eastern Oklahoma failed to attract support.

Morgan, however, was successful in proposing changes to the regulation of assisted-living centers. Those efforts also were detailed in the indictment returned Wednesday.

Federal grand jurors named Morgan, attorney N. Martin Stringer, of Oklahoma City, and lobbyist William Andrew Skeith, of Edmond, in the indictment.

The men face 62 counts of mail fraud, conspiracy and extortion. Morgan faces an additional count of bribery.

Through their attorneys, Morgan, Stringer and Skeith have denied wrongdoing.

Grand jurors said two companies hired Stringer and Skeith to assist in separate legislative efforts to protect or expand their business interests. Morgan is accused of accepting more than $400,000 in improper payments disguised as legal retainers while he served as president pro tempore and later as co-president pro tempore of the Senate.

“The allegation is that the payments were for influencing and getting Mr. Morgan to act in his official capacity and not as an attorney,” U.S. Attorney Sandy Coats said at a news conference Thursday.

The indictment did not name the two companies, but attorneys involved in the case identified them as Dilworth Development Co. and Tenaska. Separately, a bribery count against Morgan details his involvement with Silver Oak Senior Living, an assisted-living center company in Edmond.

Landfill influence

Morgan is accused of accepting more than $141,000 in illegal retainer fees from Dilworth to use his legislative influence to kill or alter bills that would have been harmful to the company's plans to construct an unpopular 155-acre landfill four miles northeast of Blackwell.

Opponents objected to bringing in garbage from out of state and contended the geology of the area was susceptible to sinkholes that could lead to ground water contamination.

The opponents took their fight to the Legislature, pushing for legislation that would increase county oversight and regulation of commercial landfills. That effort was opposed by Dilworth.

It was unclear from the indictment the extent to which Morgan influenced legislation, but Dilworth's efforts to obtain a landfill permit remain on track. Department of Environmental Quality officials recommended approval of the permit.

An administrative law judge recently sided with the company and issued a proposed permit for the landfill, said Fenton Rood of the Department of Environmental Quality. The agency's executive director, Steve Thompson, still has to sign off on the proposed permit.

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