Toby Keith asks judge to be lenient with ex-nursing homer owner

Sunday, September 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Country music star Toby Keith is asking for leniency for a longtime nursing home owner who admitted bribing a state health official.

Keith is a longtime friend of E.W. ``Dub'' Jiles and the pair are ``partners in several horses,'' Keith wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron, who is scheduled to formally sentence Jiles on Tuesday.

``I hope you will consider the good things Dub has done along with the bad,'' the singer wrote. ``Please consider all the good and be as lenient as possible with Dub. Oklahoma can benefit far more by him doing community service than could ever be benefited from incarceration.''

Keith, a native Oklahoman, is considered one of the most popular and recognized artists in country music. He was nominated in August for seven Country Music Association Awards, including Entertainer of the Year.

Jiles pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to commit money laundering. He admitted in his plea that he paid $18,800 in bribes to former Deputy Health Commissioner Brent VanMeter in 1999 and 2000.

VanMeter has admitted accepting the bribes and is serving a two-year prison sentence.

Keith was willing to testify as one of Jiles' character witnesses at the sentencing but the judge decided to just consider their letters. Keith's letter was written in April and filed with the court clerk last week.

The singer called Jiles ``one of the finest Americans I have ever met'' and ``one of my dearest friends.''

Jiles, 68, faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine.

The Oklahoma City resident admitted he paid the bribes to VanMeter in exchange for being appointed temporary manager of five troubled nursing homes.

Prosecutors allege he also paid bribes to health officials as rewards for having patients moved to homes under his control. He allegedly skimmed $1.3 million from Oak Hill Living Center in Jones, where many of the patients were moved.

Defense attorneys say Jiles overcame humble beginnings to become a successful businessman who ``devoted his life to his work, his family and this community.''

They specifically noted that Jiles has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity and helps care for a granddaughter disabled by spina bifida.