OKLAHOMA CITY -- They range from the many county commissioners who landed in jail to the renowned former longtime state Sen. Gene Stipe, who has ended up with a felony conviction after years of suspected wrongdoing.
These politicians could be termed the state's dirty dozen of the past 25 years who will probably be remembered as well as many of the good guys in Oklahoma politics. A recent addition to this less- than-exemplary lineup is a former judge who made national and international headlines when he was accused of using a penis pump while in the courtroom presiding over hearings and trials. Indecent: Former Creek County District Judge Donald Thompson is serving four consecutive one-year sentences for indecent exposure. He had served on the bench for 22 years. Gene Stipe: The McAlester Democrat is serving a five-year probationary sentence for federal campaign violations and perjury and is in trouble again. After having served more than 50 years in political office, Stipe allegedly continued to hatch political campaign schemes by reimbursing "straw donors" who funneled money to Democratic campaigns. In the long run, Stipe, 81, may not be remembered so much for his recent problems, at least in his old stomping grounds in southeastern Oklahoma's "Little Dixie," said Keith Gaddie, political science professor at the University of Oklahoma. At his height, Stipe "was such a colorful character," Gaddie said. Stipe fit the role of "the old-line, rural politician, the cigar-chomping country lawyer" who had a charismatic quality inside the courtroom, he said. Ghost employee: Former state Sen. Jim E. Lane of McAlester was sentenced in 2003 to three years probation and two months home detention for his role in funneling illegal money into Walt Roberts' unsuccessful 1998 congressional campaign. Of the more than $200,000 in illegal money that ended up in the Roberts campaign, most was tied to Stipe, but Lane was directly tied to less than $70,000. Lane's sentence in the Roberts case came only six months after he was released from prison where he served seven months of a five-year sentence for defrauding the state as a "ghost employee." County commissioner scandal: Old-time politics in the Southern tradition reared its head in Oklahoma big time when dozens of "good ol' boy" county commissioners were convicted of taking kickbacks. The scandal played out in the early 1980s, serving as a textbook example for political scientists of what power and money can do to common folks elected to public office where they have access to taxpayers' money. "The funny thing is that the corruption was generally accepted," Gaddie said. It was common practice that commissioners received a 10 percent kickback from key vendors, but when the ante was upped to 15 percent or more, it was discovered. State Health Department: In 2000, the State Department of Health was rocked with scandal when the FBI showed up at the office of Deputy Health Commissioner Brent VanMeter, who was subsequently charged in federal court on several counts including money laundering and bribery. VanMeter conspired with two nursing home operators to have them pay VanMeter bribes in return for the Health Department's giving favorable treatment to their homes. VanMeter was convicted of both state and federal charges. Testimony showed he was using the bribes to feed his gambling habit. The Smiths: Tulsan Finis Smith, former longtime state senator, and his wife, Doris, both went to prison in 1986, convicted in federal court on 17 counts of mail fraud, tax evasion and concealment of foreign bank accounts in one of the most highly publicized trials in Oklahoma history. The Smiths were convicted of taking funds paid them by four tag agents for equipment and accounting services and hiding the money in a Mexican bank account. They remained in prison for a year. Smith later described himself as a vagabond. "We have used all of our savings and assets. We live the life of the great gypsies," said Smith, who died in November 2005 at age 79. Bribery scandal: Another Tulsan, Bob Hopkins, a former state corporation commissioner who represented Tulsa County for 28 years in the state Legislature, was convicted in 1994 of accepting a $10,000 bribe from a Southwestern Bell attorney. In return, Hopkins had voted to allow the telephone company to use $30 million in overcharges. Hopkins died in 1997 at age 68. Embezzlers: Also in Tulsa County, election board secretary Harmon Moore was sent to prison in 1987 for embezzling public funds. He was convicted of converting $16,713 in public funds to his own use. In Payne County, District Attorney Paul Anderson shocked the legal profession in 2002 when he admitted embezzling $84,000 over five years. He pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement and was sentenced to two years in prison. He served less than nine months but made full restitution. Mega Star: Longtime Eufaula Mayor Joe Johnson spent three years in prison for his part in the failed Mega Star entertainment complex. In August 1998, a hometown jury convicted him on 10 corruption charges, deciding he had conspired with others to divert city funds. Johnson had become mayor of Eufaula when he was 24, then served for another 24 years. Crimes and misdemeanors: One of the more prominent politicians convicted in the last 25 years of the state's history was former Gov. David Walters. Walters pleaded guilty in 1993 to a misdemeanor charge of violating a state campaign law in a plea agreement that dismissed eight felony charges of conspiracy and perjury. The conviction also led to his decision not to run for governor again. Walters, a Democrat, is now president of Walters Power International, a company that provides huge electricity-generating mobile plants sometimes located in remote regions. Free furniture: Just last month, Carroll Fisher, former state insurance commissioner, started serving a three-year prison term after he was caught depositing a $1,000 campaign contribution from his state campaign funds into his personal bank account when it was overdrawn in 2003. Fisher was reprimanded by the State Ethics Commission for soliciting office furniture from those he regulated. The governor said that Fisher could not keep more than $33,000 worth of furniture, artwork and kitchen equipment he had sought as "gifts to the state." Dishonorable mention: For those who are counting, we've already listed a dozen, but here's one more for good measure. Some will be remembered for improprieties that caused a big to-do at the time but did not result in more than embarrassment. Oklahoma gained some notoriety during a U.S. House check-writing scandal in the early 1990s when representatives were accused of bouncing checks on the House bank. Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards was named as one of the worst offenders with 386 overdrafts. Edwards received a letter, he said, in 1992 informing him that no wrongdoing was found in his case. But voters booted him out of office in 1992. After leaving office, Edwards taught for many years at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Mick Hinton (405) 528-2465