[This story has been updated]
U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein announced criminal charges against newly minted State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks today, stemming from alleged payments for Oaks' help in getting money allocated to a project in Baltimore.
According to a press release from the office, the FBI ran a sting operation on Oaks, a State Delegate representing District 41 from 1994 through February, when he replaced the ailing Se. Lisa Gladden in the upper chamber. Rosenstein's office says Oaks met with a "cooperator," who in turn introduced him to a "confidential human source" portraying himself as an out-of-town businessperson trying to get Baltimore City government contracts through a minority-owned business.
This minority-owned business is "a real business that is operated by a different cooperating defendant," according to the affidavit on which the charges were based. They shorten the cooperating defendant to CHS.
According to the affidavit, during that initial meeting, at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Pikesville, the following exchange took place:
OAKS: So (states the first name of the CHS), what's our chance at getting into the airport?
CHS: The chance?
OAKS: I said us...
CHS: No. I need to ask you.
OAKS: I said us because uh, I'm at the table (unintelligible) now I wanna see what we can do and if it requires some um, Maryland Baltimore connections uh, to be a part of it, then that, that's fine.
After the initial meeting, in September 2015, the confidential human source recorded conversations with Oaks. They spoke about a project being developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the confidential source offered to pay Oaks for his help.
The affidavit details many conversations between the cooperator and Oaks, in which Oaks seemed noncommittal about taking money. Until finally this:
CHS: Well, if you trying to speak in code to me, I got it loud and clear.
CHS: You don't need ...
CHS: That's why we need to work out no trail.
OAKS: That's right. That's right. And we will de ... we will determine what, what, what's what.
CHS: (Unintelligible) yeah.
OAKS: Can't nobody come back say I got you on tape. You ain't got me on tape saying a mother fucking thing but mother fuck.
CHS: See, that's why I know you all right. (Laughs). That's why I know you all right. That's why I'm comfortable. Cause we ... This ain't just...Nobody ain't trying to just slap us on the wrist on nothing like this.
OAKS: No. No. Hell no.
CHS: They trying to slap something on our wrists.
OAKS: (Unintelligible). That's right.
At that point, in March of 2016, Oaks allegedly faxed letters on his House of Delegates letterhead to HUD (or what he thought was HUD) supporting the project. He was allegedly paid $10,300 for this.
In May, Oaks said he was worried about a wiretap, so he and the confidential source went to a prepaid phone store and bought burner phones, which the FBI paid for.
In September, the confidential source allegedly paid another $5,000 to Oaks "in exchange for Oaks filing a bond bill with the Maryland Department of Legislative Services (DLS) requesting $250,000 for the Project, which Oaks filed later that same day."
The affidavit says the bond bill was titled "Creation of a State Debt - Baltimore City - Multifamily Housing Development at Druid Lake Park."
Oaks was last criminally convicted in 1988, when he received probation and 500 hours of community service for stealing from his own campaign finance fund. In that case, Oaks allegedly reimbursed himself twice for various trips and office supplies—first from the state (he was a State Delegate) and then from his campaign account. He lost his office upon conviction, and appealed the case all the way to the Court of Appeals, which vacated the perjury charge but allowed the theft charge to stand. Oaks was re-elected in 1994.
Oaks was without his belt, his trademark kufi hat, and handcuffed when he appeared in Federal Court at 4 p.m. to hear the charges. He was flanked by former State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms and Kobie Flowers, a Greenbelt lawyer, both of whom are serving as his defense.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark J. Coulson went over the charge, honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Oaks filed a financial affidavit, apparently pleading poverty. The judge entered a "contribution order," saying "if in the future you have the ability to contribute to the cost of your defense, I may order that."
Flowers said Oaks' previous conviction for theft was not a conviction, but a "probation before judgment." The judge released Oaks on the condition he not break the law or contact anyone involved in the case, and asked him if he had any questions.
"No, your honor," the senator replied.
Court officials put the handcuffs back on him as the courtroom cleared.