Offices of agency administrators searched

Thursday, July 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Law enforcement officials searched the offices of two Oklahoma Tax Commission administrators and the home of an agency auditor this week as part of a multicounty grand jury investigation.

The Daily Oklahoman reported that the offices of Stephen G. Smith and David Gene Nicholson were searched Tuesday. Smith is the commission's enforcement administrator; Nicholson is administrator over the Tax Commission's truck registration division.

On Wednesday, law enforcement officers searched the home of Tax Commission auditor Leon Qualls Jr., the newspaper said.

The searches were part of a multicounty grand jury's investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption by Tax Commission employees, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Goodspeed said.

``Large numbers of documents were seized,'' she said.

Grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret, but the focus of the investigation so far appears to be the Tax Commission's truck registration division.

Authorities have been investigating whether private trucking agents paid bribes to Tax Commission employees to get cheaper tags. The probe began as a Tax Commission internal investigation, but Tax Commission officials asked for help from Attorney General Drew Edmondson after uncovering evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Last month, former Tax Commission auditor Billy Bruce Baber became the first person indicted in the probe when he was charged with making a death threat to a former trucking agent in a failed attempt to keep the agent from testifying or turning over documents.

The trucking agent, Ronnie Cantwell Jr., testified at Baber's bail hearing that a trucking company had paid his firm $176,000 for its tags, but that Baber had reworked estimated mileage on the bill so that only $76,000 went to the Tax Commission.

The remaining $100,000 was divided among Cantwell, Baber, former Tax Commission auditor Brian Brantley and trucking agent Dan Kiplinger, Cantwell testified.

Baber was ordered held without bail.

Brantley appeared briefly before the grand jury, but refused to answer its questions. He resigned from the Tax Commission but has not been indicted. Cantwell and Kiplinger also have not been charged.

Nicholson was the supervisor over Baber, Brantley and Qualls. Smith used to have Nicholson's position before he became the enforcement administrator.

Nicholson has worked about 20 years for the Tax Commission, Smith has been employed by the commission 24 years, and Qualls has worked 23 years at the agency.