OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Former state Rep. Mike Mass pleaded guilty Friday to a federal conspiracy charge as part of a plea agreement linked to a fraudulent scheme to funnel state money to private businesses.
U.S. Attorney Sheldon J. Sperling said Mass had agreed to cooperate with the federal government in ``an ongoing investigation into political corruption and related criminal activity.''
``The proceedings today were somber,'' Sperling said. ``This is a personal and state institutional tragedy for the defendant, the state Legislature and others.
``The weather outside notwithstanding, the sun will shine again, in the form of ongoing investigation and the further administration of justice.''
Mass, 55, is the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He left the Legislature in 2006 because of term limits.
The ex-legislator pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government. Sperling said the charge asserts that mail fraud was committed in ``a scheme to deprive another of the right to honest services.''
The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but Mass hopes to get a lighter sentence by cooperating in the case.
He was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond pending sentencing after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Kimberly E. West in Muskogee.
Mass is accused of conspiring with two other legislators to steer funds appropriated by the Legislature to the Rural Development Foundation, which then distributed the money to National Pet Products and Indian Nations Entertainment Corporation.
Steve Phipps, longtime business associate of former state Sen. Gene Stipe, has been identified in court documents as heading the RDF and owning the pet food company and the gaming company.
During Friday's court hearing, Mass admitted causing a $250,000 check to be mailed as part of the scheme.
The charge said that a businessman agreed to periodically pay Mass and the two other legislators a percentage of the gross income from gaming machines manufactured by INE from taxpayer funds.
An FBI affidavit issued in March identified former state Reps. Randall Erwin and Jerry Hefner of Wagoner as also receiving kickbacks from the businessman.
Mass and the two other legislators are alleged to have used their positions in the Legislature between 2002 and 2005 to send money to the RDF through state agencies and economic development entities in eastern Oklahoma.
Stipe also is being investigated by the FBI and a federal grand jury on allegations that he and Phipps distributed excessive donations to the 2004 campaign of U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, using other people to make the contributions.
No evidence exists that Boren knew the nature of the donations, according to FBI agents. Boren has given the money to charity.
Stipe was placed on federal probation and fined more than $700,000 after admitted illegally funneling $245,000 of his own money to the unsuccessful 1998 congressional campaign of Walt Roberts.
2/8/2007 - Bankruptcy Case Reopened
3/14/2007 - Grand Jury Looking Into Gene Stipe's Finances
3/25/2007 - Newspaper Reports On Campaign Contributions
4/12/2007 - Former Lawmaker Charged