The FBI began investigating Democratic state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks in 2014, according to court documents unsealed in the federal corruption case against him.
Oaks, 71, was added as a subject of an ongoing public corruption investigation that August, an FBI agent wrote in a January affidavit unsealed this week.
He was added, the agent wrote, “based on historical reporting that Oaks was associated with individuals who were involved in illegal activities, and that Oaks had inappropriately accepted money and other things of value from businesspersons and lobbyists in his capacity as a state delegate.”
While the full scope of the investigation remains unknown, the documents identify for the first time one person who allegedly conspired with Oaks: a Maryland businessman named Bruce Crockett, described as a longtime associate of Oaks.
Crockett, who public records show owned a Baltimore County auto body shop and a management company, died in a motorcycle crash in July at the age of 59, Baltimore County police reported at the time.
“It takes money,” Crockett said when asked in a recorded meeting with an FBI cooperator, disclosed in the affidavit, about how to go about dealing with Baltimore politicians such as Oaks. “They’re all about cash, man. … I’ve done it too many times.”
Oaks has been charged with bribery, wire fraud and obstruction of justice, and has pleaded not guilty.
His attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Southwest Baltimore resident remains free pending a trial scheduled for mid-April, after he serves in the coming session of the Maryland General Assembly. Last month, he was listed as a host among other elected Democratic officials at a fundraiser for State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore’s elected top prosecutor.
The documents add new intrigue to a case in which the government has said multiple targets have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Oaks himself allegedly agreed to cooperate in January after the FBI said he was recorded accepting $15,300 in cash bribes, but he reneged on the agreement and tipped off the target of the investigation, prosecutors have said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, released a statement Thursday saying the Senate “will allow the criminal process to occur without any interference.”
“I can assure the public that once the criminal process is resolved that the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics will also have their own investigation, with a full report and recommendations from the legislature,” Miller said.
Disciplinary actions against a senator can range from a letter of admonition to expulsion, but those actions can occur only after an ethics committee investigation. In Oaks’ case, that process is effectively frozen by the criminal proceedings.
Oaks, whose political base is Edmondson Village, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1983, and lost his seat in 1989 after being convicted of theft and misconduct in office for stealing thousands of dollars from his election fund. He won back his seat in 1994 and was appointed this year to the state Senate to take the place of Lisa Gladden, who stepped down due to health problems.
According to an affidavit filed by FBI Agent Steven Quisenberry, a cooperator who was the subject of another FBI investigation met with Crockett in May 2015 and asked if Crockett would facilitate a meeting with Oaks. The cooperator said they represented an out-of-town businessperson interested in obtaining contracts from Baltimore through a minority-owned business.
Crockett said Oaks was looking for tickets to Baltimore Ravens games — “cheap seats, not good seats, just enough to get in,” Crockett said, according to the FBI affidavit.
Crockett recounted two specific occasions where Oaks allegedly took money for helping businesses — a $4,000 payment from a contractor for help getting a significant payment owed to the contractor released by the city, and $2,000 to set up meetings. He told the cooperator that Oaks had been disappointed by the amount of the payment, according to court documents.
The cooperator got a meeting the following month with Crockett and Oaks, the FBI said. The cooperator said the minority business certification of the company he represented had lapsed, and the renewal application would have to be expedited to meet the bid deadline for a bridge contract. Oaks said he wanted three Ravens season tickets.
During a recorded call the next week, Oaks said he wanted the name and number of the person the cooperator had been dealing with at the city’s Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office. Crockett called the cooperator in July, and said Oaks wanted everything to go through Crockett and that the legislator didn’t want any communications sent via text messages.
“You gotta give it to him, he’s been doing this a long time,” Crockett said of Oaks, according to the FBI.
In September 2015, the cooperator introduced Oaks to the out-of-town businessperson at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Pikesville, the FBI said. During the meeting, which was recorded, Oaks offered to assist the businessperson, who also was cooperating with the FBI, with development in Maryland, and in the months to follow they discussed a Department of Housing and Urban Development project in the city, investigators said.
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In April 2016, the cooperator met with Oaks and gave him a draft letter of support for the real estate project, addressed to HUD’s Chicago office and containing various false statements about the project, according to the FBI. Oaks had his assistant type it out on his House of Delegates letterhead and faxed it to a number he believed was associated with HUD.
When asked how he would like to be compensated, the FBI said, Oaks put a Tootsie Pop in his mouth. The cooperator held up five fingers to signify a $5,000 payment, and Oaks shook his head and made an upward motion with his thumb.
Oaks accepted three cash payments of $5,000 in meetings recorded by the FBI, including one after filing paperwork for a bill to issue $250,000 in state bonds to support the project.
Oaks went to an expensive shoe store in Harbor East the same day he received one of the cash payments, according to the documents.
“One of those shoes, you paid for,” he told the cooperator in one call.