Former state senator Gene Stipe pleads 'guilty' in federal court

Tuesday, April 1st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Oklahoma state Sen. Gene Stipe pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally funneling nearly $250,000 into a congressional campaign of his protege.

Stipe, 76, faces a range of sentencing options under federal guidelines from six months home detention to 12 months in prison. Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed upon a $490,378 fine and he agreed to give up his law license.

Stipe, who served more that five decades in the state Legislature, could have been fined up to $735,567, three times the illegal contributions of $245,189 that were provided to the failed congressional campaign of Walt Roberts.

The McAlester Democrat, who resigned from the state Senate last month, spoke in a barely audible voice as he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to obstruct a Federal Election Commission investigation, a felony perjury count and a misdemeanor of conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.

He didn't comment after the hearing, which was held before U.S. District Judge James Robertson.

Roberts last month pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor involving $175,000 in illegal campaign contributions. He indicated on his campaign finance disclosure forms that he used his own money, but Stipe provided the funds in violation of federal contribution limits.

Last week, former state Sen. James E. Lane pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. He admitted receiving $46,980 in checks from Stipe's personal assistant, Charlene Spears, and then using the money to pay Roberts' campaign expenditures.

Spears also has pleaded guilty in the case.

In his unsuccessful run against then-GOP Rep. Wes Watkins, Roberts reported donating $182,850 to his own campaign, which raised questions because he was a part-time auctioneer and musician who apparently did not have that amount of money to spend.

The government said Roberts received $20,500 from a trailer sale that never took place; $17,000 for consulting work he never performed; $67,500 for a cattle transaction that never occurred; and $70,000 for options on Roberts' art that was a ruse to raise money for advertising. All the money went into Roberts' campaign bank account.

Stipe has said he gave Roberts the $67,500 to buy cattle for him. He said he didn't know the money would be put into the campaign and that he received the cattle later.

The government charged Lane with saying that the $20,500 was for a trailer sale when the funds, which came from Stipe's bank account, went into Roberts' campaign treasury.