Grand Jury Investigates County Commissioner

Wednesday, November 28th 2007, 8:49 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The state's multicounty grand jury is investigating whether Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart plotted to misuse county funds to pay for plans for a bridge in southeast Oklahoma City.

Three of Rinehart's employees testified Tuesday before the grand jury, The Oklahoman reported.

“This investigation is a witch-hunt,” said Rinehart's attorney, Stephen Jones of Enid. “It's designed to try to embarrass Mr. Rinehart politically and in his criminal case.''

The grand jury is directed by assistants to Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat. A spokesman for the attorney general said he couldn't comment on the defense attorney's claim because grand jury matters are secret.

Rinehart, a Republican, already is facing charges of conspiracy, money laundering and perjury connected to allegations he illegally financed his 2004 campaign with excessive donations from three donors. At issue in the new inquiry is a proposed bridge along SE 89 in Oklahoma City known as ``the Hog Creek Bridge.''

Special Agent Jerry Cusic for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation obtained a judge's permission last week to search through records on the project. Oklahoma County has paid $33,890 to Cobb Engineering of Oklahoma City to design the bridge, records show.

Commissioners have approved spending a total $48,890 for the design.
But Cobb Engineering wants $30,000 more to make changes to the plans, which is about $15,000 more than is budgeted, the OSBI agent told the judge in the request for a search.

The agent reported Rinehart, his highway department superintendent, Doug Williams, and unknown others ``willfully intended and attempted to orchestrate payment for engineering specification in excess of the authorized contract amount.''

Williams testified Tuesday, along with Rinehart's chief deputy, Jim Marshall, and his highway business manager, Leta Dyer.

Marshall told The Oklahoman: ``Once all the facts are out, this project will be identified as one done properly.''

Critics of the bridge have accused Rinehart of pushing for it as a political favor for a donor, Ray Pelfrey, who owns land nearby.