Gene Stipe's punishment may benefit brother

Sunday, February 20th 2005, 2:02 pm
By: News On 6

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) _ The brother of longtime state Sen. Gene Stipe may end up profiting from Stipe's court-ordered community service.

A 10-acre tract Francis Stipe bought in January 2003 is the proposed site of a biotech plant. As an unpaid economic development consultant, Gene Stipe lobbied for the plant.

Gene Stipe, 78, was sentenced to perform 1,000 hours of community service after pleading guilty in January 2004 to federal campaign fraud. He has been allowed to work off that time as a consultant, The Oklahoman reported Sunday.

His work includes lobbying state officials and advising the McAlester economic development board about how to secure state and federal money.

The biotech company _ Tandem Technologies _ held a groundbreaking ceremony in July on Francis Stipe's property, but the land sale still hasn't closed.

Francis Stipe wouldn't disclose his asking price, but said when the proposed deal appeared in jeopardy, he offered to donate five acres.

``I'm hoping it will be successful, and that they'll buy some other land from me later,'' Francis Stipe said.

He said he bought the land _ part of a 320-acre ranch _ several months before he learned about the planned biotech plant or a proposed industrial road to be built past it.

Francis Stipe is a voting member of the McAlester Economic Development Service board.

In November, the board voted to urge the city council to commit $1 million for the Tandem Technologies project. Francis Stipe abstained from voting without comment, according to meeting minutes and an interview with Jim Mills, McAlester's economic development director.

Francis Stipe said Friday he didn't consider voting to be appropriate since he owns the proposed plant site.

In a telephone interview, Gene Stipe said he isn't benefiting financially from his community service, and to his knowledge, his brother won't either.

``I haven't been involved in it, so I don't have any occasion to know what the extent of it is, of who he's sold the land to or hasn't sold the land to,'' Gene Stipe said. ``I wasn't a party to it, whatever it was.''

The probation supervisor for Oklahoma's eastern federal district promised an investigation based on The Oklahoman's findings.

``At the very least, we might have to roll back the community service hours'' if Stipe's work has enriched him or his relatives, Chief Probation Officer Kelly Garrett said.

``It's kind of an ugly situation,'' he said.

Garrett said he might even have Stipe's probation officer remove him from the economic development work and find another way to fulfill his community service.

Records indicate Stipe has completed 360 hours of his mandated 1,000 hours.

The bulk of that time has been spent advising city officials and lobbying to obtain funding for the Tandem Technologies project, an industrial access road that runs past the proposed location and reopening 60 miles of railroad tracks that could be used by the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

Records show Gene Stipe also received community service credit for work on property he once owned.

In July, Stipe toured the national Pet Foods plant under construction in north McAlester. He owned the property until October 2002, when he sold it for more than twice the fair-market value set by the county assessor. The buyer was the McAlester Foundation, an arm of the economic development service. A combination of city and state funds were used for the purchase.