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Senator Oaks faces new federal charge of obstructing justice

Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, was appointed to the state Senate in February.
Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, was appointed to the state Senate in February. (Baltimore Sun file photo)

State Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, already facing allegations of fraud and bribery, was charged Wednesday with obstruction of justice in a new federal indictment in which prosecutors say he reneged on a deal with the FBI.

Prosecutors say Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, tipped off the target of another investigation that FBI agents had in their sights.

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Oaks, 71, was charged in April with wire fraud in a scheme in which he allegedly took cash in exchange for using his previous office as a state delegate to influence a development project.

The U.S. attorney’s office added eight more counts in a superseding indictment two months later. They included three more wire fraud counts and five for violations of the Travel Act, which forbids the use of cellphones in criminal activity.

Oaks has pleaded not guilty to the nine previous charges.

In the new indictment, prosecutors say Oaks agreed to cooperate with the FBI in January in the federal investigation of an undisclosed target.

Prosecutors allege that Oaks covertly recorded his conversations with the target between Jan. 9 and March 30. They say Oaks knew he might have to be a witness in future proceedings against the person.

State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks has been indicted on nine federal fraud and bribery counts in an action that supersedes the criminal charges brought against him in April.

Prosecutors say Oaks approached the target in an Annapolis bar on March 17, a day when the capital city is active with St. Patrick’s Day parties, and warned him that “what we talked about, just say no.” Prosecutors say Oaks did not record the conversation or tell the FBI about it.

About two weeks later, prosecutors say, Oaks approached the same person in the hallway of a government building in Annapolis and said, “I’m going to ask you for something, just say no.”

Prosecutors contend that Oaks intended to dissuade the target from engaging in the activities that were being investigated, and that the person took the comments as a warning that a criminal investigation was underway.

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The U.S. attorney’s office did not say whether the target was a lawmaker, a lobbyist or some other individual.

Oaks already faced possible sentences of 20 years for each wire fraud count and five for each count of Travel Act violations. The obstruction-of-justice charge also carries a 20-year term. But the practical effect, analysts said, is that Oaks may have forfeited any leniency he might have received for cooperation with the FBI.

Dan Clements served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland. He said the one-count indictment issued in April indicated that Oaks had a deal on the table before the FBI determined he had reneged. He said the indictment was likely handed up quickly after prosecutors learned of Oaks’ alleged actions because they wanted to get him into the court system, with bail and other restrictive pretrial conditions.

Clements said the language of the U.S. attorney’s news release Wednesday indicates that the target is now cooperating with authorities.

Oaks declined to comment Wednesday. He referred questions to his attorney, Stuart O. Simms. Simms did not return a call.

The investigation of Oaks goes back at least as far September 2015, when prosecutors say a “cooperating individual” introduced the then-delegate to a confidential source who portrayed himself as an out-of-town businessman interested in getting government contracts. Prosecutors say that Oaks agreed to help.

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Oaks is charged with sending letters containing false statements on House of Delegates letterhead between April and July of 2016 to someone he believed to be a federal housing official to help the supposed businessman obtain a federal grant. Prosecutors say Oaks accepted $10,300 from the source for his help.

The original indictments also charged that Oaks accepted another $5,000 for agreeing to file a request with the Department of Legislative Services for a $250,000 bond bill for the source’s project.

Oaks was appointed to his Senate seat in February to fill a vacancy left by Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, who resigned for health reasons. He had served 28 years in the House of Delegates.

Oaks is scheduled to go on trial April 16, a week after the close of the 2018 General Assembly session.

The new indictment was announced by Maryland’s acting U.S., attorney, Stephen M. Schenning, and Gordon B. Johnson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore office.

State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a longtime Baltimore state legislator, has been charged in U.S. District Court with wire fraud, court records show.

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