Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel is accusing Sooner Tea Party leaders of bigotry and racism for an online newsletter article that accuses him of harboring a potential terrorist at the sheriff's department.
The posting accuses Whetsel of putting security at risk by selecting as a reserve deputy an Edmond dentist of Lebanese descent who has contributed thousands of dollars in cash and vehicles to the department and to Whetsel's re-election campaign.
The posting questions whether the donations persuaded Whetsel to select Eli Tanios Jarjoura, owner of Bright Smiles Family Dentistry, despite his being accused of a felony violation in 1994 and being named as a co-defendant in a civil complaint of Medicaid fraud filed in federal court in Oklahoma City in 2010.
Jarjoura said the felony charge was dismissed and that the civil complaint is unfounded.
Calling the accusations “horrible and reprehensible,” Whetsel, a Democrat, said Jarjoura should be commended for volunteering his time, money and service to the department. Jarjoura is one of about 200 unpaid reserve deputies on the department's roster.
“It is a bigoted, racist, slanderous, defaming and libelous email full of lies,” Whetsel said. “This is unfortunately the type of scorched earth, unethical and hate campaign being waged against me.”
Al Gerhart, a founding member of the Sooner Tea Party, told The Oklahoman he wrote the newsletter article based on information provided by Carol Knight, a campaign manager for Darrell Sorrels, Whetsel's Republican challenger in the Oklahoma County sheriff's race.
Knight said the information she sent Gerhart was “bits and pieces” of information provided to her by other unnamed sources. Sorrels said he is not sure whether the accusations have merit but that he shares some of the concerns.
“The only connection to my campaign in this issue is if it's true, it's serious. If it's not true, it does not have a connection,” Sorrels said.
The article questions Whetsel's associations with a man “with ties to the Middle East and possibly Syria” as a reserve deputy, and said Jarjoura may pose a security risk.
Specifically, it criticizes Whetsel for allowing Jarjoura to drive a department vehicle that has access to local and national security alerts. The Chevy Camaro, one of four vehicles donated to the department by Jarjoura, is equipped with an advanced license plate scanner that is connected to the National Crime Information Center.
“I could well imagine that any Middle Eastern men associated with Jarjoura would find full access to law enforcement warnings and access to the data bases (sic) very helpful in avoiding capture or planning acts of terrorism,” Gerhart wrote.
Gerhart said his concerns are not about race; rather, he is concerned if access to potentially sensitive intelligence can be purchased.
“All we're saying is, ‘Who is this guy? Why was his background check flubbed? How come we found it and Whetsel couldn't?'” he said.
Jarjoura, 47, said he was born in Lebanon and identifies with the Christian faith. He said the sheriff's department is one of several organizations, including the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, to which he and his wife make regular contributions. He said he also donates to Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Mission in Norman, a church for Lebanese Catholics.
He said he volunteers 60 to 120 hours each month enforcing traffic laws for the Oklahoma County sheriff's department.
“Some men just like to play golf, some dentists like to do other stuff — I love law enforcement,” he said. “I have lost immediate family members who were killed by the same people they say I am one of. This is absurd, and it hurts so much.”
No action on charges
Jarjoura acknowledged he faced a felony grand larceny charge in Cleveland County in 1994. He said the charge was based on false accusations lodged by a fellow dentistry school student whom he turned in for cheating. He said the charge was dismissed and ultimately expunged. Record of the charge is no longer available at the county court clerk's office.
Jarjoura said the Medicaid lawsuit is an unfounded civil whistle-blower complaint filed by two plaintiffs seeking financial gain. The complaint accuses dentists contracted by Bright Smiles of violating SoonerCare and Medicaid provider contracts beginning in July 2008, by recruiting patients with free gasoline coupons.
Jarjoura said he has not accepted Medicaid patients at his clinic since December 2007. His attorney, Thomas Snyder, said the U.S. government's decision not to intervene or file criminal charges in the case is indicative of the case's lack of merit.
“No one from the federal government has accused anyone in the case of doing anything wrong,” Snyder said.
Snyder said none of the people who complained about Jarjoura were actually seen by the doctor.
Gerhart's article also questions the timing of Jarjoura's volunteer work at the department, implying he was brought on by the department despite his criminal record because of his donations to the department.
A transaction report provided by Knight indicates Bright Smile Family Dentistry donated $25,500 to the department in April 2009. Jarjoura was certified by the state's Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training in November of that year.
Records indicate the dentist contributed a total of $3,600 to Whetsel's re-election campaign. He made several contributions, the first coming in April 2009.
Whetsel said Jarjoura submitted his application to become a reserve deputy in November 2008 and started the CLEET Basic Reserve Academy in March 2009.
Whetsel said the first time he met Jarjoura was the following month, when the dentist awarded the department the first of his donations, and that Jarjoura was subjected to the same background investigation as other applicants.
Among qualifications, reserve deputy applicants must have no criminal record and must participate in a personal aptitude interview and a psychological investigation.
“At that point in time when he was vetted for the academy there was absolutely no conviction for any crime,” Whetsel said. “There was apparently an arrest made, but there was no follow-up to the arrest, there was no prosecution, and he went in and had it expunged.”
Oklahoma County sheriff's race
John Whetsel (incumbent)
• Party: Democratic
• Age: 63
• Residence: Choctaw
• Profession: Oklahoma County sheriff since 1997
• Family: Wife, Mitzi; two daughters and three grandchildren
• Church: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Edmond
• Endorsements: Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office Fraternal Order of Police; Oklahoma City Firefighters Fraternal Order of Police; Oklahoma Retired Firefighters Association; Retired Police Officers Association of Oklahoma; Six of seven remaining elected county officers, including District Attorney David Prater; former District Attorneys Wes Lane, Andy Coats and James Harrod; former Governors Brad Henry and Frank Keating.
• Party: Republican
• Age: 58
• Residence: Midwest City
• Profession: U.S. Marshals Service, contract security officer
• Family: Wife, Lynn; five children, 10 grandchildren
• Church: First Southern Baptist Church, Del City
• Endorsements: United States Court Security Officers Union; Choctaw Fraternal Order of Police