A prosecution witness in a political corruption trial testified Tuesday that her landfill development company paid a state Senate leader more than $141,000 for his influence in the Legislature, not for his legal advice.
The witness told jurors the company hired Mike Morgan, then Senate president pro tem, in the summer of 2005 at the urging of Oklahoma City attorney Martin Stringer.
“Martin Stringer, he said we needed him,” Edith Denton testified in federal court in Oklahoma City. “It was to watch our back.”
The testimony came on the second day of the bribery and conspiracy trial for Morgan, Stringer and longtime lobbyist Andrew Skeith.
Denton recalled that Stringer explained her company, Dilworth Development, would need someone “in the Senate to be able to block things that were going to cause us trouble.” The company had hired Stringer in 2003 to help in its plans to build a landfill in Kay County, which is in far north Oklahoma.
Denton, who lives in Blackwell, said after a year she wanted to stop paying Morgan $4,166.66 a month because the senator was too expensive. She said their attorneys advised her and other owners “it would be better if we paid him until we got our permit.”
“Were you afraid not to?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Vicki Behenna asked.
“Yes,” she said.
2 others also indicted
Morgan, an attorney, is accused of taking more than $400,000 in bribes from three companies in exchange for influence at the state Capitol. Prosecutors allege the payments were disguised as checks for retainer fees.
The companies have been identified as Dilworth Development, power plant operator Tenaska Inc. and an assisted-living operation, Silver Oak Senior Living of Edmond.
Stringer and Skeith represented the first two companies. They are accused of conspiring with Morgan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Williams told jurors Tuesday in an opening statement that they will hear testimony that Morgan was not performing any legal services for the nonrefundable checks.
The prosecutor also told jurors Stringer is a very influential attorney and has a good reputation. The prosecutor said that made it difficult for attorneys under Stringer to question his decision to hire Morgan.
The prosecutor said Morgan, while Senate leader, controlled the agenda of the Senate, but all of what he did for the three companies is not known. “There is much that is lost in the mists of the Oklahoma Legislature,” Williams said.