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Oaks returns to Annapolis amid federal charges

State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a longtime Baltimore state legislator, has been charged in U.S. District Court with accepting cash payments in exchange for using his position to influence a development project, court records show.

State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, who was charged with wire fraud Friday in federal court, made a surprise return to Annapolis Monday.

Oaks strolled into the Senate chamber wearing a seersucker suit and matching kufi cap, greeting a few fellow senators as he went to his seat in the back corner.

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Just minutes before Oaks arrived, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller had announced that the Baltimore Democrat wouldn't be present Monday, the final day of the 90-day General Assembly session in Annapolis.

"He said, 'I don't want to be a distraction,'" Miller told the chamber.

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But Oaks arrived part way through the Senate's morning session. He sat quietly in his seat, casting votes on bills and listening to his colleagues debate state policy.

Miller later said Oaks felt it was important to represent his constituents on the last day of session. "I appreciate his concern," the Calvert County Democrat said.

In the Senate lounge later, he ate lunch of with lawmakers of both parties.

"Man, I feel comfortable," Oaks said during a break in Senate action.

Oaks, 70, is accused of using his legislative letterhead to misrepresent the status of state funding for a project in exchange for money. Federal authorities say Oaks received $15,300 in payments for his assistance on the project. The money actually was supplied by the FBI and the transactions secretly recorded by its investigators, according to court documents.

If convicted, Oaks faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Oaks was assigned a court-appointed attorney Friday after saying he was unable to afford a lawyer, but the judge said he plans to review whether Oaks is able to contribute financially to his own defense.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson wrote that Oaks "may have sufficient resources to contribute financially to the payment of counsel fees." At the end of Oaks' case, the court can request an investigation into the longtime legislator's financial resources and recommend whether he should be required to pay for some of the services of his government-appointed lawyers.

Oaks is represented by Stu Simms and Kobie Flowers. Both declined to comment.

In addition to his $48,622 salary as a state senator, Oaks reported on state ethics forms that he works for the Chesapeake Employers' Insurance Company, the successor to Maryland's Injured Workers Insurance Fund. Tom Phelan, CEO of Chesapeake Employers, said Oaks continues to be employed by the firm, but declined to comment further.

Oaks has worked for IWIF since at least 2004, according to his disclosure forms. In 2014, Oaks was paid $70,000 as the manager of state accounts for the fund, his disclosure form says.

James Wyda, the top federal public defender from Maryland, said it's "not that unusual" for a judge to request a review of a defendant's finances to see if he or she is able to pay for court-appointed lawyers.

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"The cost of litigating a class like that is probably pretty high," he said.

The allegations against Oaks stem from an FBI investigation conducted while he was in the House of Delegates.

Before being appointed to the Senate in February, he spent 28 years representing Baltimore in the House of Delegates. He had served two terms when in 1989 he was convicted of stealing more than $10,000 from his campaign fund. He was also convicted of perjury and misconduct in office.

Oaks received a five-year suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. He was re-elected to the House in 1994.

Most of the day Monday, Oaks sat quietly in his seat in the back row of the Senate chamber, watching bills move through the legislative process.

On his way into the State House Monday morning, Oaks saw a news conference underway and stood with the assembled presenters, even though he was not invited to join them.

Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser and Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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