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Md. state Sen. Oaks facing additional charges in phony development scheme

Sen. Nathaniel D. Oaks, D-Baltimore City (Bryan P. Sears/The Daily Record)

Sen. Nathaniel D. Oaks, D-Baltimore City (Bryan P. Sears/The Daily Record)

Maryland state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks is facing eight new fraud charges related to a phony west Baltimore development scheme.

The charges, contained in an indictment released Thursday, include four counts of wire fraud and violations of the Travel Act for accepting bribes in exchange for using his position to influence business matters for another individual, according to details of a May 31 indictment handed up by a federal grand jury.

Oaks’ attorney, Stuart O. Simms, could not be reached for comment.

In April, Oaks was charged in a criminal complaint with honest services wire fraud and accepting illegal cash payments. The charges are related to a series of cash payments allegedly made in 2016 to Oaks while he was still in the House of Delegates.

Oaks and a confidential source working for the FBI now called “Mike” established the code word “lollipop,” referring to the Tootsie Roll candy Oaks would eat, to mean $1,000, according to the federal affidavit.

The informant portrayed himself as Texas-based developer interested in minority business contracts with Baltimore city, including a project that would involve the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the indictment. The developer created a fictitious plan to develop a property on Druid Lake Drive.

Oaks, in recorded phone calls and in-person conversations, is accused of accepting more than $15,000 in return for writing a letter to what the senator thought were HUD officials in support of the bogus proposal. He also sponsored legislation to secure state funding for the project that was filed last summer in advance of the 2017 General Assembly session.

During those calls, Oaks appears to be concerned with speaking about the transactions over the phone.

During a March 16 conversation, the informant asked Oaks how much he would want, but each time Oaks was evasive or non-responsive. Oaks did express concerns about being recorded and not wanting to discuss financial arrangements over the phone, according to the complaint.

“Can’t nobody say I got you on tape,” Oaks tells the informant, according to the affidavit. “You ain’t got me on tape saying a mother f—— thing but mother f—.”

The developer ultimately provided a pre-paid cell phone to Oaks that was allegedly used for their conversations, according to court records.

Oaks allegedly provided “Mike” a copy of the draft of legislation in November titled “Creation of State Debt — Baltimore City — Multifamily Housing Development at Druid Lake Park,” according to the complaint. The bill “authorized the creation of a State Debt not to exceed $250,000 with the proceeds to be used for the Project.”

The bond bill was meant to help finance the phony development project of a vacant lot on Druid Lake Park Drive, outside Oaks’ district.

The bond bill was never introduced and a copy of the draft is considered confidential. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Maryland did not respond to a request to see the draft legislation.

According to the indictment, Oaks made false statements to a man he believed to be a HUD official named “John Knox.”

In that conversation, Oaks vouched for “Mike” and said he had known the developer for years and personally talked to officials in other jurisdictions about projects completed by “Mike,” according to the indictment.

Investigators, in the April statement of charges, established a timeline they say shows Oaks and “Mike” first met in September 2015 at the Ruth’s Chris restaurant in Pikesville after being introduced by another unnamed FBI source identified only as “the cooperator.”

In addition to a possible prison sentence, federal prosecutors are also seeking a forfeiture of any assets that can be traced to the alleged crimes as well as the $15,300 in bribes Oaks is accused of accepting.

This is not the first time Oaks has had legal troubles related to his service in the state legislature.

Oaks served in the House of Delegates from 1983-1989 and again from 1994 until this year, when he was appointed to fill the seat of Sen. Lisa Gladden, who had retired due to declining health.

In 1988, Oaks was convicted in Baltimore City Circuit Court of charges of theft and misconduct in office related to stealing thousands of dollars from his campaign finance account.

He received a five-year suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. He was also fined $1,000 and placed on three years of probation.

As a result, he lost his seat in 1989 but was re-elected in the same district in 1994.

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