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Power plant officials deny bribing former Oklahoma state senator

Officials for Tenaska Inc. testified Wednesday at a political corruption trial for former state Senate leader Mike Morgan, longtime lobbyist Andy Skeith and prominent attorney Martin Stringer.
BY NOLAN CLAY nclay@opubco.com Modified: February 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm •  Published: February 22, 2012
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Officials at a power plant company deny bribing a state senator even though they stopped paying him $5,000 a month for “professional services” only when he was leaving the Legislature.

“Absolutely not,” one official, Bart Ford, told jurors Wednesday at a political corruption trial when asked whether the company is in the business of bribing people.

“We're well respected, and we think of ourselves as having high ethical standards,” Ford testified.

The energy company, Tenaska Inc., paid Mike Morgan $250,000 between December 2004 and December 2008. Morgan, a Democrat, was leader of the state Senate for most of that time.

Prosecutors at Morgan's trial have told jurors the payments were bribes for political influence. Morgan, an attorney, contends the payments were for legitimate legal services.

No one from Tenaska has been charged out of the bribery investigation.

The company operates one power plant in Oklahoma and others across the country. It had almost $10 billion in gross operating revenues in 2010.

The company also has paid state Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, and a former Alabama state senator who recently died, according to testimony Wednesday. Lerblance, an attorney, is not facing charges.

Tenaska hired Morgan in 2004 while it was planning to build a coal-fired power plant in northeast Oklahoma with the Grand River Dam Authority, according to testimony.

Officials testify

Jurors learned Wednesday Morgan was consulted about and voted for a 2005 Senate bill that exempted GRDA from competitive bidding requirements for more than a year. Prosecutors contend Morgan pushed the bill to lower Tenaska's costs for the proposed plant.

The bill became law but the plant was never built.

The company later considered building a power plant near Sallisaw but never did.

Ford, a vice president for development for Tenaska, testified Tuesday he remembers being impressed with Morgan after a meeting in September 2005 at Tenaska offices in Arlington, Texas. He said he considers Morgan's substantive input at the meeting to be legal work.

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