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Md. state Sen. Oaks stripped of committee assignments

He faces bribery, obstruction of justice and corruption charges

A state senator from Baltimore who is facing federal bribery and corruption charges was stripped of his committee assignments following a recommendation by a legislative ethics panel.

State Sen. Nat Oaks. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks was not present Monday night as a letter from the Legislative Joint Ethics Committee was read into the record and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. announced the punishment.

In its letter to the Senate, the committee expressed grave concerns about the charges against Oaks.

“This committee reviewed the allegations set forth in the criminal complaint, as well as other related documents,” the committee wrote. “During this initial review, the committee has identified numerous potential violations of Maryland Public Ethics Laws arising from the actions of Senator Oaks that resulted in the filing of federal criminal charges. The violations may include misuse of public resources, conflicts of interest, misuse of the prestige of office, improper acceptance of gifts, failure to make required disclosures, and failure to register as a lobbyist.”

But the committee said it was forced to balance continuing its investigation into Oaks’ alleged misdeeds and a federal trial that is set to begin after the 90-day session ends in April.

The panel agreed in early February to a request made by acting U.S. Attorney for Maryland Stephen M. Schenning that it delay its investigation until after the federal trial.

“It’s the only course of action (the ethics committee) can take,” Miller told reporters following the meeting.

“The public elected him to the Senate,” Miller said. “He’s entitled to be a member of the Senate and nobody can take that seat away unless he’s evicted from the Senate, ousted from the Senate and you can’t do that without a trial, OK. Federal prosecutors asked us not to have a trial because it would involve the same evidence that they’d use against him during the course of the summer.”

When asked if there were other more serious consequences short of expulsion Miller told reporters: “Not that I know of.”

Oaks is facing nine counts of bribery and corruption related to allegedly taking more than $15,000 from a confidential FBI informant in a phony development scheme stemming from Oaks’ time in the House of Delegates.

A trial on those charges is scheduled for April 16.

Oaks also faces a separate trial on related charges of bribery and obstruction of justice.

The panel wrote to Miller that it was “extremely concerned about the seriousness of the allegations, as well as their impact on the confidence of Maryland’s citizens in their government officials and the Maryland General Assembly.”

The delay meant that the ethics panel could not make a recommendation to censure or expel Oaks.

“However, in recognition of our duty to protect the public trust, the committee recommends that you take the interim step of removing Senator Oaks from all his committee assignments,” the panel wrote to Miller.

Oaks, who was appointed to the Senate nearly a year ago, was assigned to the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review.

Oaks will continue to serve as a senator and be able to sponsor legislation and cast votes daily but will have no other official functions.

The Senate cannot not expel or place him on leave — with or without pay.

The action against Oaks is the first time in recent memory that a senator has been stripped of committee assignments.

The charges against him and his discipline are the latest in a series of black marks marring the General Assembly, including the indictment of two delegates from Prince George’s County on bribery charges related to local liquor license issues last session and the public reprimand of Del. Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, related to his advocacy on medical marijuana.

In 1998, the legislature voted to expel Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat, after the ethics committee determined he used his influence to obtain state contracts and a Lincoln Town Car.

Young was later found not guilty of bribery and corruption charges.

A decade later, the legislature voted to censure Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince Georges’, and strip him of his position as chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. That action followed Currie’s acquittal on federal bribery charges.

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