In a rare move, federal prosecutors are challenging a judge's decision to put former state Senate leader Mike Morgan on probation instead of in prison.
Prosecutors Friday filed a notice that they are asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review Morgan's sentence.
If the appeal succeeds, it is possible Morgan, 58, of Stillwater, could be resentenced to prison.
Jurors last year found Morgan, a Democrat, guilty of accepting $12,000 in bribes to influence legislation in 2007. Morgan, an attorney, testified at the trial in Oklahoma City federal court that the payments were for legal work.
In January, U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron sentenced Morgan to probation for five years.
Morgan also was ordered to complete 104 hours of community service and forfeit $12,000 to the federal government.
Morgan had faced up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors urged the judge to give Morgan “a meaningful sentence of imprisonment.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Williams told the judge that a sentence of probation “will tell potentially corrupt public officials that the cost of getting caught in a case like this is relatively low.”
Prosecutors will give their reasons for their challenge later. They may argue the appeals court should require the judge to resentence Morgan because she abused her discretion when she chose only probation.
Prosecutors in other federal cases have succeeded in such challenges. Last month, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found a judge abused her discretion when she imposed an “unreasonably low seven-day” sentence on a former company executive who committed securities fraud.
Morgan is appealing
In choosing probation for Morgan, the judge noted that the conviction was based on what she called “suspect evidence” — the testimony of “a convicted felon.”
She also spoke of how impressed she was that more 400 supporters of Morgan wrote her letters urging leniency. “You are well-loved in the community, in many communities,” she said.
Morgan is appealing his conviction.
“I am innocent of this crime, and I think someday, somehow, the truth will come out, and that will be proven,” Morgan said after his sentencing Jan. 8.
His attorney, Jack Fisher, said Monday, “It seems there is a fair chance the 10th Circuit will vacate Mr. Morgan's conviction based on insufficient evidence. If our appeal of the conviction fails, we are confident that — based on Judge Cauthron's excellent findings and conclusions — the sentence of probation will be upheld.”
The bribery conviction involved payments to Morgan of $1,000 a month for a year by an Edmond company that operated assisted-living centers.
Sam Crosby, the owner of the assisted-living company, was awaiting sentencing on a bank fraud case when he testified against Morgan.
Crosby told jurors he hired a lobbyist, met with Morgan at the Capitol in May 2006 and asked Morgan for help — possibly legislatively — to get health officials off his back. He testified Morgan said to him, “This is the way it works: You pay me a $1,000-a-month retainer.”
Crosby testified, “It didn't sound right to me.”
Morgan's attorney said Monday that Crosby did not believe he bribedMorgan.
The attorney also said, “Morgan testified he did not receive or solicit any bribe from anyone, and Judge Cauthron found at sentencing that she adopted ‘the view that Mr. Morgan's testimony is all entirely correct and honest.'”
The attorney said, “The charge of bribery requires the government to prove both parties to the alleged ‘bribe' intended to commit a crime. … If no one thought the payments were a bribe — how can it be a bribe?”