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Sooner Tea Party leader found guilty of blackmailing Oklahoma state senator

Jurors in Oklahoma chose no prison time for Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart and only a $1,000 fine.
by Nolan Clay Modified: May 7, 2014 at 10:12 pm •  Published: May 7, 2014

Rowland told jurors “we can’t let people like Al Gerhart” force legislators to pass laws because they fear him. He said Gerhart wasn’t content to be one of hundreds of voices the senate chairman heard and that he wanted to be the only voice.

Gerhart admitted sending the email to Branan on March 26, 2013, demanding the passage in a Senate committee of a House bill involving a United Nations plan.

Branan, R-Oklahoma City, is chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

“I know evil exists,” Branan testified Tuesday about the email. “It really scared me....He definitely was wanting me to do something I did not want to do.”

The state House of Representatives already had passed the bill, but it died when the Senate Energy committee did not consider it. Branan said the bill was a solution to a problem that did not exist. He said he already had refused to let four similar Senate bills be heard.

In the email, 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 did not testify but jurors did see a recording of his April 2013 news conference about the email.

He said in the news conference that when he mentioned “family” in the email he was not meaning the senator’s kids.

Branan is married with two teenage children. The senator on Tuesday called Gerhart a bully for threatening his family.

Branan has been a senator since November 2002 and is not running this year for re-election because of term limits. He instead is running for a seat on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Defense attorneys contended that Branan was not really upset by the email but pushed for charges against Gerhart to silence a political opponent.

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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