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Sooner Tea Party co-founder charged with blackmailing Oklahoma state senator

Al Gerhart was charged Tuesday with two felonies involving an email that threatened a state senator to pass a bill.
by Nolan Clay Published: April 9, 2013

A co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party was charged Tuesday with blackmail over an email that he admits sending to a state senator.

Al Gerhart, 54, of Oklahoma City, also was charged with violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.

Both counts are felonies.

Gerhart, a carpenter, denied any wrongdoing after coming under investigation last week. He had not been arrested yet Tuesday evening.

Gerhart sent the email March 26 to Sen. Cliff Branan, promising to make the senator a laughing stock unless the Senate Energy and Environment Committee passed a bill dealing with a United Nations plan.

Branan, R-Oklahoma City, is chairman of the committee. The senator turned the email over to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Misspelling one word, Gerhart wrote: “Branan, Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don't hear that this bill will be heard and passed. We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise.”

Gerhart admitted at a news conference at the Capitol last week that he sent the email.

“Political pain and embarrassment will be necessary if the citizens expect to regain control of this Senate down here from the state chamber of commerce and special interests,” he said. “The time for ‘nice' behavior is over with.”

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation collected a videotape of the April 2 news conference as evidence.

Gerhart could not be reached Tuesday for comment and did not immediately reply to a message left on his phone. Last week, Gerhart claimed his email was constitutionally protected free speech. He also said the investigation of the email was an attempt to harass him because the Sooner Tea Party tactics are effective.

At the news conference, Gerhart told reporters “the scuttlebutt” at the Capitol was that the senator reacted the way he did to the email because the senator was worried the tea party would uncover infidelity.

Branan said last week, “We've been happily married for nearly 18 years. … Nothing like that has ever happened. And I think, candidly, he got me confused with somebody else.”

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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