Sooner Tea Party stirs Oklahoma County sheriff's race

Sheriff John Whetsel stands by the selection of an Edmond dentist as reserve deputy despite Sooner Tea Party charges that the sheriff is harboring a potential terrorist.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD, zcampfield@opubco.com Published: October 7, 2012
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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.

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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.

Darrel Sorrels

• 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

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