County Commissioner, Ex-legislator Surrender

Thursday, April 5th 2007, 5:12 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart and political consultant Tim Pope were booked into jail Friday and quickly released on bond, one day after they were accused of felony violations of state campaign laws.

They declined to answer reporters' questions as they left jail after each posted $24,000 bond. Rinehart later released a statement blaming politics for the charges. He said he would not bend to pressure that he resign.

"We will be defending the charges," said Tom Prince, an attorney for Rinehart.

A formal arraignment was set for May 17.

Rinehart and Pope, a former state representative, were accompanied by sheriff's deputies to the Oklahoma County jail a few blocks from the courthouse after making an initial appearance before Judge Russell Hall.

The two men were not handcuffed.

They face accusations of perjury, conspiracy and money laundering in connection with the funneling of illegal campaign contributions to Rinehart's 2004 race for county commissioner.

Three political donors have also been charged with misdemeanor counts of making contributions that exceeded the legal maximum of $5,000.

In his statement, Rinehart said he would "continue to aggressively serve the public despite good ol' boy demands that I abandon public office. The politics of personal destruction is the tactic they are using in an attempt to leave me disgraced and bankrupt. I will not bend to the pressure.

"There is no foundation to it," Stephen Jones, Pope's attorney, said Thursday. "It is politically inspired, and it is retaliatory. It is abuse of the attorney general's power to proceed. We will fight and defend it."

"These are serious charges," Attorney General Drew Edmondson said earlier. Edmondson, a Democrat, said his record shows he has prosecuted more Democratic public officials than Republicans.

He said the charges could lead to proceedings by Rinehart's fellow county commissioners to suspend or oust Rinehart from office.

"I don't believe anybody should remain in office with charges filed under these conditions," the attorney general said.

Eight county officials, including Rinehart's two fellow commissioners, Jim Roth and Ray Vaughn, issued a statement Friday asking for a legal opinion from the district attorney as to what actions they might take concerning Rinehart.

"It is deeply troubling to all of us as individuals and office holders, that a colleague would allegedly obtain public office through illegal means," the statement said. "As elected officials who have been entrusted by the people to conduct their business in a fair, open and honest manner, we can not tolerate, nor should the public accept, dishonesty from a public official."

The charges came after a lengthy investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Donors Walter Pelfrey, Robert Larkin and Jerl Methvin were each charged with one count of making a contribution to a political candidate in excess of $5,000.

The charges accuse Rinehart and Pope of a scheme to move illegal campaign contributions through Pope's political action committee, OKRA-PAC.

The state's complaint said OKRA-PAC served "as a conduit or intermediary" to receive and disburse the contributions intended for Rinehart's campaign.

Through the political action committee, Pope and Rinehart used the contributions "to purchase certain campaign literature and mailing services that were originally ordered by Rinehart but printed, performed, and paid for in the name of OKRA-PAC," the complaint said.

"It's basically a simple scheme," Edmondson said. "Rinehart and Pope conspired to launder excessive illegal campaign contributions from Pelfrey, Larkin and Methvin through Pope's political action committee. These contributions, we allege, were accepted by the PAC for use in the Rinehart campaign. That's illegal."

Rinehart and Pope are alleged to have committed perjury by filing bogus campaign reports with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.