Convicted of corruption, former Maryland Sen. Nathaniel Oaks asks for 18-month prison sentence

Maryland's highest court has ruled that former Senator Nathaniel Oaks will remain on the primary election ballot. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun video)

After pleading guilty to federal corruption charges, former state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks is asking a judge for an 18-month prison sentence — far less than the eight to 10 years recommended by federal guidelines.

Oaks’ lawyers argued for a lesser sentence in a memorandum filed in court that also included letters of support from five former state legislators, a former Baltimore police commissioner, family members and activists.


Oaks, 71, is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Richard D. Bennett next Tuesday. He pleaded guilty in March to two felony fraud charges.

The Democrat admitted taking $15,300 from an FBI informant who posed as an out-of-town developer and enlisted Oaks in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Oaks served as a state senator, representing Baltimore, for just over a year before resigning in March. He previously served in the House of Delegates for nearly three decades.

In the 171-page sentencing memorandum filed this week, Oaks’ lawyers portrayed their client as a lifelong public servant with a bleak future. They argued that his crimes were less severe than in other cases.

Jill Carter, a former state delegate and current civil rights chief at the Baltimore mayor's office, has been appointed to the Maryland senate seat vacated by Nathaniel Oaks.

“In the annals of political corruption, the $15,300 received by Mr. Oaks is barely noteworthy,” his attorneys wrote.

Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Maryland, said prosecutors would not comment on Oaks’ request for a sentence below what federal guidelines suggest.

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm, who is now chief of the Coppin State University police force, wrote in a letter to the court that Oaks “has done some dastardly, despicable things,” but that there was no public benefit to putting the former legislator in prison.

“He is in his seventies, has a tainted legacy, and is a broken man,” wrote Hamm, who said he has known Oaks for more than 60 years since the two grew up near each other in Cherry Hill.

Civil rights leader Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, a former president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, wrote that he cannot condone Oaks’ actions but knows the former senator helped “hundreds if not thousands of people.”

“If leniency can be rendered, please accord and afford my friend as much as you can,” Cheatham wrote.

Nearly 20 years ago, a federal judge declared the Maryland lawmakers and lobbyists tolerated a “culture of corruption,” and decried the State House as a “mess” in need of reform. Today, some say, not much has changed. 

Larry Young, a successful radio talk show host, who was expelled from the Maryland State Senate in 1998 after ethics officials concluded he had used his public office for personal gain, also pleaded for lenience for Oaks. Young asked the judge to sentence Oaks to community service rather than prison.

Young said Oaks is a friend, an advocate for a diverse constituency, and a successful promoter of historically black colleges and universities. The radio host said he is also increasingly concerned about Oaks’ “physical and emotional state” since his guilty plea.

“His unintentional weight loss, excessively-fatigued appearance, and distressed disposition suggest the entire experience is taking a toll on a man nearly 72 years old,” Young wrote.

James Wyda, the public defender leading Oaks’ legal team, wrote that regardless of his prison sentence, Oaks “will emerge from prison an elderly man in rapidly declining health, with dim employment prospects, and shunned by the community in which he spent the majority of his adult life.”


Wyda filed a supplemental sentencing memorandum under seal that he said contains confidential health information about Oaks.

Nathaniel T. Oaks pleaded guilty to two federal corruption charges this morning in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Judge Richard D. Bennett said — about two hours after Oaks formally resigned his Senate seat in the Maryland General Assembly.

Former state legislators Clarence Davis, Gareth E. Murray, John A. Pica Jr. and Salima Siler Marriott also filed letters in support of Oaks, as did Yolanda Winkler, the director of government affairs for Baltimore County.

In the sentencing memorandum, the attorneys said the range suggested by sentencing guidelines is “artificially inflated” because it takes into account the value of the HUD grant that Oaks sought but never secured for the FBI informant, who posed as a fictional developer named Mike Henley.

“Although not a dollar was in fact spent or lost by HUD or the state of Maryland, these six-digit ‘loss’ figures nonetheless elevate Mr. Oaks’s sentencing guideline range, dollar-for-dollar, as if the amounts had actually been spent or lost,” Wyda wrote.

The suggested sentencing range “treats Mr. Oaks as if, in exchange for a bribe, he wrote a check to Michael Henley from the State Assembly bank account for $1 million,” Wyda wrote.

Wyda argued that the Democrat was trying to help Henley obtain grant funding for a project that would “contribute significant benefits to the community” and require an investment from the fictional developer.

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