Jurors are to hear closing arguments Thursday morning in the political corruption trial for former state Senate leader Mike Morgan and prominent Oklahoma City attorney Martin Stringer.
The jury of 11 women and one man could begin deliberations early Thursday afternoon.
Stringer, 71, was the final witness, testifying Wednesday in his own defense that he didn't do anything wrong.
“I wouldn't risk a 48-year career on what I've been accused of,” he told jurors at the federal trial in Oklahoma City.
Morgan, a Democrat, is accused of accepting more than $400,000 in bribes from three companies while he was in the state Senate. Prosecutors allege he was paid for his political influence. Morgan, 57, a Stillwater attorney, told jurors Tuesday he was paid for legal work. “I never sold my seat,” he said.
Stringer is accused of involvement in a conspiracy to force the owners of one of the companies to pay Morgan $50,000 a year in bribes.
The company, Dilworth Development Co., was seeking a permit to build a landfill in northern Oklahoma. Owners faced strong local opposition, particularly from the commissioners in Kay County.
Stringer told the jury he agreed to help the owners at the urging of his son-in-law, who was an engineer on the project. He testified he recommended in 2005 that the owners hire Morgan for “muscle” to negotiate a settlement with opponents of the project. He said other attorneys had been ineffective and one attorney had received a death threat.
“We needed to change our game plan because we weren't getting anywhere,” Stringer said. “We could not get this case settled. I needed a new player on the block.”
He disputed earlier testimony by three owners that they were told to hire Morgan so the senator could stop any bill at the Capitol that might derail their project. The owners told jurors they met Morgan at Stringer's law firm on June 28, 2005. They said they were told Morgan already had stopped a bill that would have made their landfill development “dead in the water.”
“Martin Stringer, he said we needed him,” one owner, Edith Denton, testified Feb. 14. “It was to watch our back.”
Stringer testified Wednesday, “They're either lying or they're confused because it never happened.”
He said there was discussion with the company's owners at the June 28, 2005, meeting that a lobbyist, Andy Skeith, could watch their “backside.”
“Was there any comment about ‘watching your backside' as it pertained to Mike Morgan?” his lead defense attorney, Drew Neville, asked.
“No,” Stringer said.
Morgan became Senate president pro tem in March 2005 and held that leadership position in 2006. He was Senate co-president pro tem in 2007 and 2008.
Stringer acknowledged during his testimony that he spoke with Morgan from time to time about legislative issues. He insisted he never asked Morgan to influence any legislation.
He also acknowledged an attorney working with him on the landfill project did come up with proposed legislation to help it. Stringer said the lobbyist, Skeith, worked with contacts in the state House to try to get the legislation passed.
Another lobbyist, Dave Herbert, testified earlier as a prosecution witness that it was Morgan who was working with Skeith to sneak the proposal into a bill at the end of the session.
Dilworth Development Co. paid Morgan a total $141,666, sending the last month's check in May 2008. Morgan left the Senate later in 2008 because of term limits.
Stringer denied he was pushing for Morgan to be paid as long as Morgan was the Senate president pro tem. “I thought they were talking about political contributions,” he testified.
At the start of the trial, Stringer also was accused of crimes with Morgan involving a second company. The trial judge on Friday dismissed all 33 counts against Stringer involving that company because of insufficient evidence.
U.S. District Judge
Stringer testified for more than three hours Wednesday in a courtroom filled with supporters. He began his testimony by talking several minutes about his background. He revealed he has cancer.
His attorney, Neville, emphasized early in the testimony that Stringer was instrumental in bringing from Seattle the NBA team that became the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Don't be modest,” Neville said, “You're the lawyer who negotiated the deal to get them here?”
“Yes,” Stringer said.
Stringer faces 29 felony counts — one conspiracy count, one extortion count and 27 mail fraud counts.
Morgan faces 62 felony counts — one conspiracy count, one extortion count, one bribery count and 59 mail fraud counts. Prosecutors dropped a second conspiracy count Monday.
The jury will decide only whether the men are guilty of the crimes. If they are convicted, the judge will decide their prison sentences later.