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Cleveland City Council Candidate Arrested on Perjury Complaint

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CLEVELAND, Oklahoma - A candidate for Cleveland city council on Friday turned himself in on an outstanding warrant for perjury and falsifying documents.

A warrant was issued on Wednesday for the arrest of Keith Eric Buntin, 32, after authorities said they uncovered that he declared candidacy for public office after pleading guilty to a felony.

Oklahoma state statute says a candidate cannot run for office within 15 years of pleading guilty to or being convicted of a felony, and they are not eligible to be a candidate for or to be elected to any state, county, municipal, judicial or school office. The waiting period begins after a sentence is completed. Buntin was given a one-year deferred sentence following a guilty plea to felony second-degree burglary in 2002, court documents show.

According to an affidavit filed by the Pawnee County District Attorney's Office and requested by News On 6 on Thursday, Buntin “falsely affirmed himself to be a qualified candidate for City Council in Pawnee County, Cleveland, Oklahoma.” The signature on the declaration approves three statements a candidate has to affirm about their eligibility, and all three “are false according to Oklahoma Law pertaining to Keith Eric Buntin and his criminal history in which he is not a qualified candidate to be elected to any municipal office,” the affidavit says.

The Pawnee County Election Board verified Buntin made his candidacy official on the December 3 deadline. Two days prior, on December 1, he filed to have the 2002 felony case expunged from his record, and in the petition he acknowledges that he pleaded guilty to felony second-degree burglary and served a deferred sentence, records show. A call to the court clerk on Thursday revealed the burglary case has been expunged, but the clerk could not give the date it happened since the record now is sealed.

The petition for expungement, which details the burglary charge and guilty plea, still is public because it also requested to erase two separate domestic violence charges that eventually were dismissed, but remain a part of Buntin's arrest record. Those cases, with two different women, were not expunged from Buntin's record.

An expungement removes records of charges and/or conviction from public view, and a defendant legally can claim the events never happened. Expunged records are sealed after a decision. They still will exist to law enforcement for specific purposes, but they only can be obtained by the public with a court order.

Buntin is a volunteer firefighter in Jennings and serves as assistant chief. He is a candidate for city council Ward 4 in Cleveland, which is holding an election on Feb. 10 to fill two empty spots, one because the former mayor, Brian Torres, resigned after questions arose over the validity of a public bidding process.

City officials also confirmed there is an ongoing criminal investigation involving Cleveland's assistant fire chief Justin Nienhuis, who was terminated on Friday morning. Officials wouldn't reveal the nature of the investigation into Nienhuis or if it is related the case filed against Buntin.

It is not clear if it is linked, but in the declaration for Buntin's candidacy and in the affidavit alleging perjury in that declaration, records show Buntin's signature "was subscribed and sworn to" by Nienhuis, who is a notary public.

The City of Cleveland referred all questions to the district attorney saying, "the criminal information filed speaks for itself."

Buntin was released from the Pawnee County Jail after posting $10,000 bond.

The Cleveland American contributed to this report.

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