The co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party on Monday called the blackmail charge against him “political persecution.”
“He's paying us back,” Al Gerhart said of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. “It's absolutely payback.”
Prater last week charged Gerhart with blackmail in connection with an email sent to Sen. Cliff Branan.
Prater also charged Gerhart with violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act. Both counts are felonies.
Gerhart, 54, of Oklahoma City, turned himself in Saturday at the Midwest City jail after returning from an overseas trip. He is free on a $15,000 bond.
Gerhart alleged Monday that Prater charged him because of disclosures the Sooner Tea Party made in newsletters about the district attorney.
Gerhart said the disclosures about Prater's 2006 victory party and other things prompted a state grand jury investigation of Prater.
Gerhart said he was called as a witness before the grand jury, and “they had copies of our Sooner Tea Party newsletter in there.”
Gerhart said Prater should disqualify himself from the blackmail case.
The grand jury in 2012 cleared Prater of any wrongdoing involving the victory party. The grand jury reported a defense attorney first made the accusations about the victory party.
Prater responded Monday, “Any allegation the defendant wants to make, we'll be happy to address in court.”
Gerhart has admitted to sending the email to Branan. He said again Monday he did nothing wrong.
“Absolutely not. Absolutely not. This is free speech all the way,” Gerhart said.
Gerhart sent the email to Branan on March 26, promising to make the senator a laughingstock 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. His committee did not hear the bill dealing with the U.N. plan.
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.”
Under state law, blackmail can involve a written communication that threatens to expose information about someone “which would in any way subject such person to the ridicule or contempt of society.”
Under the law, blackmail occurs if the intent of the communication is “to extort or gain any thing of value from another or to compel another to do an act against his or her will.”