Sunday, April 20, 2008

McMahan should not be getting paid!
by Steve Fair
In an article in Sunday’s The Oklahoman, Steve Phipps- aka Big Daddy admitted he committed three felony crimes on October 22, 2002. The three crimes involved the scheme he and former State Senator Gene Stipe, Stipes brother Francis, and three former state legislators hatched up to get taxpayer dollars funneled to Phipps and Stipes dog food plant in McAlester. It also involved funneling money to a statewide candidate for State Auditor. Steve Phipps has cut a deal with prosecutors and has agreed to plead guilty to one conspiracy charge in exchange for his testimony, which has pointed the finger at the Stipes as the masterminds behind this multi-pronged scheme.

That fateful day in October 2002 started with Phipps paying former State Representative Mike Mass, the Chairman of the House appropriation and budget committee a bribe. Both Mass and Phipps have testified the bribe was $48,000 in return for getting state tax dollars funneled to the dog food plant. Phipps testified the bribe was paid in Stipes office after they had closed on the property. But the day was still young and Phipps had other “business” to conduct.

Phipps then testified he wrote a check to Stipe’s brother, Gene, for $3,000 out of Phipp’s abstract company. Stipe in turn wrote a check to the Jeff McMahan campaign for $3,500. Stipe admits making the donation, but said he wasn’t reimbursed. An endorsed canceled check was presented at the trial as evidence, but Stipe says it’s not his signature. This was straw donation. Straw donations, which is where a person donates to a campaign, but are reimbursed for the donation. They are illegal under federal law and a clear violation of state ethics rules. According to an FBI affidavit presented when McMahan was indicted, he received over $80,000 in straw donations in the 2002 race- all from Phipps and Stipe. Two down and one more to go before the day ends.

Phipps says he then drove to Shawnee where he met the McMahans in a restaurant. After Jeff left the table, Phipps says he gave Lori McMahan $10,000 in cash. At the time, McMahan was locked in a close race with current State GOP Chairman Gary Jones for State Auditor. The seat had been vacated by McMahan’s mentor Clifton Scott. Scott endorsed his protégé and campaigned for him, citing McMahan’s integrity and ethics, as the reasons Jeff should be his successor. According to Phipps, the money was used by McMahan to buy radio spots for the final media push in the 2002 race.

In November 2002, Gary Jones lost the Auditors race to McMahan by less than a percentage point. It was the closest statewide race that year- even closer than the Henry- Largent race. It’s crystal clear McMahan, Phipps, Stipe, Mass and the others stole the race by using straw donors and dirty tactics to exceed the legal limits on campaign contributions in a race that is arguably the most important in state government- the watchdog of our tax dollars.

Jeff McMahan and his wife were indicted in December and face charges of corruption and racketeering in connection with their taking of illegal campaign contributions and bribes. The Auditors office had oversight and regulatory control over the abstracting business until last year. It is alleged that McMahan took the straw donations in exchange for extending favorable treatment to abstractors. He also allegedly agreed to not audit the tax dollars that were allocated for the dog food plant.

After Jeff McMahan was indicted in December, he placed himself on “paid” adminstrative leave until his hearing in July. For over four months, Oklahoma taxpayers have been paying Jeff to stay home. State Representative Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, asked Attorney General Drew Edmondson about this seemingly wrong action. The AG ruled that McMahan did the right thing to stay home- at taxpayer’s expense.

Either the law is wrong and should be changed or the lawyer is wrong and should be changed, but there is nothing right about an indicted official drawing a paycheck and not working. That wouldn’t fly in the private sector, nor should it in the public.

The Speaker has appointed a bi-partisan committee of legislators charged with checking out the disturbing allegations against McMahan and begin proceedings to remove him from office if the evidence warrants it. This committee is made up of legislators who are being paid by the taxpayers to conduct their hearings.

Oklahoma taxpayers funded a non-existent dog food plant in McAlester. Oklahoma taxpayers are paying a statewide elected official full salary to stay home and watch Oprah. Oklahoma taxpayers are paying legislators to investigate McMahan. This is just wrong- no matter what your party affiliation. At the very least- McMahan should not be getting paid to sit home. Contact your State Representative and State Senator and express your outrage.

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