WAGONER — A multicounty grand jury indicted Wagoner County Sheriff Bob Colbert and a Sheriff’s Office captain on Thursday and recommended Colbert’s removal from office.
The grand jury, which had been working since September, indicted Colbert and Capt. Jeff Gragg on three felony counts. Both men are accused of conspiring to bribe two people by taking $10,000 in exchange for not pursuing drug charges in December 2014.
One count alleges that they either conspired to receive a bribe or conspired to commit extortion through threats. The second count claims that Colbert and Gragg received a bribe or, in the alternative, committed extortion through threats; a third count alleges that they committed extortion through threats.
Gragg initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle driven by Torell Wallace and a 17-year-old passenger at U.S. 69 and 80th Road about 2:10 p.m. on Dec. 13, 2014, according to the indictment.
“Gragg conducted a search of the vehicle in which he found $10,000 in cash, of which Wallace and the passenger both claimed ownership,” a news release from Attorney General Scott Pruitt states.
“Wallace and the passenger were arrested for possession of drug proceeds. After being taken to the Wagoner County Jail, Colbert and Gragg accepted a bribe from Wallace and the passenger when Wallace disclaimed any interest in the cash. They were then released and their records were deleted. The cash was placed in a Sheriff’s Drug Forfeiture account with the Wagoner County Treasurer’s Office.”
The indictment states that Wallace told Gragg he was on parole and asked him what he needed to do to stay out of jail, and that Gragg told him the only way he would be free that day was to disclaim ownership of the $10,000. It additionally alleges that once Wallace did so, Colbert told Wagoner County detention officers to stop Wallace’s booking process and delete his records from the system.
The grand jury recommended Colbert’s removal based on counts of extortion, willful neglect of duty and failure to produce and account for all public funds in his hands at a settlement required by law, according to the release.
The accusation for removal indicates that Colbert neglected his official duty when participating in the bribe with Gragg and extorting Wallace and the teenager.
Colbert and Gragg could face up to 25 years in prison each and be ordered to pay fines of up to $10,000. Wagoner County Assistant District Attorney Jack Thorp said Thursday afternoon that a warrant had been issued for Colbert’s arrest. Jail records show both were booked into the Wagoner County Jail with bail for each set at $10,000 on Thursday evening. Colbert was released around 7:30 p.m.
Thorp said the District Attorney’s Office cannot represent Colbert in the case, which the grand jury states will be tried in Wagoner County.
Michon Hughes, Colbert’s attorney, said her client would not be available for comment.
In an emailed statement Thursday afternoon, Hughes maintained that the accusations against her client are politically motivated and said the indictments come from a routine drug interdiction.
“The basis for this interdiction as reported includes the accusation of deleted records. That accusation cannot be supported at trial,” Hughes said. “We are looking forward to being released from the gag order such that we can release the counter-evidence exonerating Sheriff Colbert.
“We are so sad for the Sheriff. (Attorney) Gary James, my husband Clint Hastings and I will all continue to fight to clear his name,” she said.
Additionally, the jurors pointed to an instance of what they say is Colbert’s failure to properly produce and account for all public funds. The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector asked Colbert in April 2015 to account for $2,500 he received from the Wagoner County Treasurer’s Office for undercover operations on Oct. 22, 2011, but the jurors stated that he was unable to account for $440 of that money.
Hughes said none of the $2,500, which she said Colbert’s office deposited in a timely fashion, is missing.
The Tulsa World in August reported on the results of an audit into the Wagoner County Sheriff’s Office, which also revealed that Colbert spent more than $7,000 in self-promotion expenses, which the audit deemed an abuse of county funds.
Documents the World obtained from the Wagoner Tribune, a partner newspaper, show Wagoner County authorized an expense of more than $4,500 to get hats and medallions engraved with Colbert’s name, as well as customized coloring books.
In a July 1, 2015, news conference, Colbert denied allegations of misconduct committed by either him or his staff, telling reporters that “it pisses me off” that people who are upset with him would help the media “destroy” his agency.
“At no time have I ever used county funds or anything for my personal use,” Colbert said that day.
An anonymous letter that claimed Colbert had committed wrongdoing was distributed to local media last spring.
It included accusations that Colbert falsified his Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training continuing education records. The CLEET-related accusations were not mentioned in the indictment.
In June, CLEET requested that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation examine whether Colbert had falsified continuing education records or ordered deputies to sign him in to classes he did not attend. The sheriff has denied those allegations, and the OSBI investigation is still open.
Colbert and Gragg are still listed as certified peace officers by CLEET.