Baltimore Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, facing corruption trial, resigns from Maryland General Assembly

State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, who is facing trials on federal corruption and obstruction of justice charges, is resigning from the General Assembly at 9 a.m. on Thursday, according to the Senate president’s office.

The 71-year-old Baltimore Democrat submitted his resignation letter Wednesday night after the Senate’s evening session. Oaks made no public remarks and declined to talk with reporters before and after the session.

Federal prosecutors allege that Oaks took bribes from an informant who posed as a businessman in exchange for help getting government grants and other assistance. He’s set to go on trial on fraud charges in that case on April 16.

But the calendar for the U.S. District Court in Baltimore shows that Oaks has a scheduled “motions hearing” for 11 a.m. Thursday, two hours after his resignation takes effect. It is unclear what the hearing will focus on and his attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Oaks also is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly sabotaging another investigation by tipping off the target. That case is scheduled for trial in August.

Oaks was indicted in federal court on the bribery charges in the final days of the 2017 General Assembly session. Obstruction-of-justice charges were brought in November.

He has continued to serve as one of Maryland’s 47 state senators despite calls for him to resign from Democrats and Republicans, including Gov. Larry Hogan.

On his Wednesday evening walk to the Senate session from his office, Oaks was accompanied by Del. Bilal Ali of Baltimore.

Oaks then sat quietly in his seat in the rear of the Senate chamber and cast votes with fellow Democrats to shoot down Republican amendments to a school construction bill. He didn’t engage in any debate or make any statements during the session.

About half an hour into the Senate session, former senator Larry Young — who was expelled in 1998 over ethics charges — sat outside the Senate and waited to see what Oaks would do.

Young said that he’s been friends with Oaks for 40 years and had talked with him about the decision to resign. After the Senate session ended, Oaks refused to talk with reporters. He went to a private Senate lounge where he huddled with Young.

After that, Oaks, accompanied by Young, privately submitted his resignation letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Miller, through an aide, declined to comment on Oaks’ resignation, but minutes before it happened, he said: “It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.”

Last month, Oaks was stripped of his committee assignments by Miller, a rare step that diminished his influence in the legislature.

The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics had been investigating Oaks, but federal prosecutors asked the members to put their work on hold.

Oaks was convicted in 1989 of stealing more than $10,000 from his campaign account while he was a member of the House of Delegates. He also was convicted of perjury and misconduct in office, and was given a five-year suspended sentence and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service.

Oaks won his seat back in the 1994 election, and served in the House until early 2017, when he was appointed to the Senate to replace a senator who had resigned due to ill health. His annual salary as a state senator is $50,330.

Oaks has been a fixture in city politics for nearly four decades. He lost his first bid for the House of Delegates by six votes in 1978. Four years later, in 1982, he prevailed, and won a second term in 1986.

Oaks was well known for public antics. At a University of Maryland basketball game that he attended as a guest of the campus chancellor, Oaks got into a postgame shouting match with the coach. In 1987, Oaks got in a scuffle in an Annapolis restaurant with a fellow delegate.

The following year The Baltimore Sun reported that he had billed both his campaign account and the taxpayers for many expenses, including out-of-state travel. He was convicted of stealing more than $10,000 from his re-election fund, as well as perjury and misconduct in office.

The Sun reported that between his conviction and sentencing, Oaks wandered around Annapolis, a delegate in name only. He agreed at the time that it would be too embarrassing to take his place in committee hearings or on the floor of the House of Delegates. He did, however, file for his daily legislative expenses, attend political receptions and dine with lobbyists. He even managed to land a four-day junket to Miami, courtesy of Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon.

When he was convicted in 1989, Oaks automatically lost his House seat. At Oaks’ request, a Baltimore judge struck the conviction from his record in 1990 and replaced it with probation before judgment.

pwood@baltsun.com

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