A federal judge Tuesday denied state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks’ motions to dismiss portions of the indictment against him, finding the lawmaker’s request for draft legislation of a bond bill allegedly in exchange for a bribe constituted an “official act.”
Oaks, D-Baltimore city, is accused of wire fraud, accepting illegal payments and accepting bribes in exchange for using is position to influence business matters. He moved to dismiss the charge of honest services wire fraud, which centered on allegations he requested the bond bill to finance a phony development, and federal Travel Act charges, which accused him of engaging in an arrangement to receive cash payments in violation of Maryland’s bribery statute.
Oaks’ attorneys argued Friday that requesting draft legislation did not constitute an official act as required by the charges because the bill was never filed. They asked for the charges to be dismissed because the facts alleged in the indictment were insufficient.
But U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett ruled Tuesday that Oaks’ request was a decision or qualifying step toward an official act.
“It was only through Defendant’s authority as an elected member of the House of Delegates that he was able to procure a draft bond bill from (the Department of Legislative Services),” Bennett wrote.
Oaks’ attorneys attempted to analogize requesting draft legislation to setting up meetings or sending a letter on official letterhead, which were not found to be official acts in a Supreme Court decision in 2016 overturning former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s corruption conviction.
McDonnell’s case turned on jury instructions defining what constitutes an “official act.” He was originally convicted for accepting luxury gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman in exchange for promoting a dietary supplement.
Bennett determined the decision to request a draft bill was an action that Oaks had the authority to take, in contrast to McDonnell’s testimony that he had limited decision-making power in the area in question.
“Drafting legislation lies at the very heart of a legislator’s official purpose,” Bennett wrote. “A draft bill is therefore distinct from other conduct based merely on a legislator’s privileged access or administrative perks, which alone do not make conduct ‘official’ under (the statute).”
Oaks’ trial is scheduled to begin next month after the 2018 Maryland General Assembly session concludes.
The case is United States of America v. Nathaniel Thomas Oaks, 1:17-cr-288.