A former state senator who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges is being hailed as a community hero by supporters even as he faces the potential of years of incarceration that his defense attorneys say could amount to a life sentence.
Nathaniel T. Oaks, 71, is scheduled to appear in U.S District Court on Tuesday morning. Prosecutors, in documents released to The Daily Record, are asking he be sentenced to five years in prison and fined of between $30,000 and $300,000. The sentence is deserved, they say, because of the Baltimore Democrat’s interest in not only the bribes that resulted in his indictment a year ago but also in his acceptance of meals and trips and cash for car repairs from an unidentified lobbyist.
More than 40 supporters of Oaks wrote U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett pleading for mercy, noting the lawmaker’s good deeds, including helping the homeless and handing out legislative scholarships.
“He is a good man with a good heart,” wrote Barbara J. Bundy, a Baltimore educator who graduated from Edmondson High School with Oaks in 1965. “He is an honorable man and a complicated man.”
Oaks pleaded guilty in late March to one count each of wire fraud and honest services fraud related to an investigation involving a confidential informant for the FBI who posed as a developer.
Oaks, who was a member of the House of Delegates at the time of the investigation, was introduced to the informant, who went by the name Mike Henley, in September 2015.
The lawmaker and developer spoke on a number of occasions about housing developments in Oaks’ district. Henley asked Oaks to speak to a fictitious official with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, offering him a cash payment to do so.
Oaks wrote a letter on Henley’s behalf and sponsored a state bond bill. But the lawmaker openly worried that the FBI was monitoring his conversations and made Henley buy him a burner cellphone. Conversations on the phone and in person were frequently in code, with Oaks using hand signals or the word “lollipop” to refer to the amount he wanted to be paid. Prosecutors wrote that each “lollipop” represented a sum of $1,000.
Henley paid Oaks a total of $15,300 as part of the scheme, as originally charged in 2017.
Good deed credit?
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s, also wrote Bennett in support of Oaks. She painted a picture, with broad strokes, of Oaks as a mentor and a “voice of reason to diffuse heated discussions.” Her letter does not offer details of Oaks work nor does she ask for a leniency.
Other letters — including those from Larry Young, Oaks’ political mentor who was ejected from the Senate for his own ethics issues, and former Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm – portray Oaks as a man whose health is failing as a result of the disgrace and stress of a trial and sentencing.
“Obviously, I am writing as a layman, but as I have observed Nathaniel over the past several months I grow increasingly concerned about his physical and emotional state as he attempts to ready himself for the sentencing phase,” wrote Young, who now hosts a radio show on WOLB. “His unintentional weight loss, excessively fatigued appearance, and distressed disposition suggest the entire experience is taking a toll on a man of nearly 72-years old.”
Hamm wrote that Oaks “has done some dastardly, despicable things for which he should be held accountable. Having said that, I don’t know how society can be served with Nathaniel Oaks’ incarceration.”
Some current and former lawmakers — Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles; John Pica, a lobbyist who served both in the House and Senate; and former Del. Clarence “Tiger” Davis — are also expected to speak on behalf of Oaks on Tuesday.
Pica, in a letter to Bennett, said the indictment and guilty plea “forever barred” Oaks from “engaging in a profession that he loved.”
“I trust you will consider his many years of public service in which he performed admirably, his age, and the embarrassment and indignation he has caused himself when delivering his sentence,” wrote Pica. “I respectfully request that Nathaniel Oaks be required to perform public service rather than sitting in prison for a period of time where he can be of no help to anyone.”
But prosecutors dismissed details of Oaks’ good deeds, essentially arguing that Oaks and his supporters wanted a cookie for doing what he should have been doing all along.
“For one thing, it was part of Oaks’ job as an elected official to engage in good deeds that helped the public,” prosecutors wrote, adding: “There is nothing extraordinary or mitigating about the fact that Oaks, at least in some respects, performed good works.”
The letters, they wrote, “are fully consistent with what one would expect for a defendant who was a politician.”
In a memo filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Oaks’ public defenders argue their client should be given a lesser sentence — about 18 months — because his crimes are not as egregious as those of two other Maryland officials convicted of federal corruption charges: former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell and former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson.
Prosecutors painted a different picture of Oaks, one of a man convicted in 1988 of theft and misconduct in office charges related to stealing thousands of dollars from his campaign finance account. Oaks a lost his seat in the House but was later re-elected.
Prosecutors also noted Oaks’ repeated claims in recordings from the FBI where he bragged about the meals and tickets to the Baltimore Ravens, trips to Las Vegas, parties, meals and even thousands in cash to pay for repairs to his car that were given to him by lobbyist, identified only as “Person #1.”
In recordings, Oaks told the FBI informant posing as a developer: “I like to service my friends that service me. In another exchange, Oaks talked about an arrangement he had with “Person #1” in which the lawmaker would pay for a token amount of a dinner with the lobbyist paying the larger amount “’cause I pay for my own and I don’t pay for my own.”
Oaks also bragged about not disclosing the gifts on his ethics disclosure forms.