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Judge grants Sen. Oaks separate trials on fraud, obstruction allegations

A federal judge ruled Friday in favor of giving state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks two separate trials on fraud and obstruction of justice charges stemming from a corruption investigation.

Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, was initially charged with fraud over allegations that he took payments from an FBI source posing as a Texas businessman in exchange for helping him with a construction project. When agents confronted Oaks, prosecutors say he confessed to taking the payments and agreed to help investigate another man.

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In a subsequent indictment, prosecutors charged Oaks with obstruction of justice, saying that after agreeing to work as a source against the other man — referred to only as “Person #1” — he then tipped off the target, sabotaging the investigation.

State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, who was charged with wire fraud Friday in federal court, made a surprise entrance into the Senate chamber Monday morning.

Oaks’ lawyers asked to have those two elements of the case sent to trial separately, saying linking them was improper and lumping them together would mean he wouldn’t get a fair trial.

In his ruling, Judge Richard D. Bennett said there was too little connection between the two sets of allegations to hear them together.

“While there may be some evidentiary and contextual overlap, the Defendant’s scheme to commit bribery and his scheme to obstruct justice are two different efforts that lack a shared objective,” Bennett wrote.

The U.S. attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment. An attorney for Oaks couldn’t be reached.

The ruling is a potential setback for prosecutors who could face a harder time outlining the full sweep of the allegations against Oaks. It gives the senator a chance to fight the two issues separately, and his lawyers have said Oaks could testify in his own defense in the obstruction case.

A trial on the fraud charges is scheduled to begin April 16. Bennett wrote that a trial on the obstruction charge would follow sometime later.

Oaks was convicted in 1989 of stealing thousands of dollars out of his campaign account while serving in the House of Delegates. He regained his seat in 1994 and was appointed to the state Senate last year to replace a legislator who stepped down because of ill health. His salary as a state senator is $50,330 a year.

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Oaks took his seat last week for his 30th legislative sessions amid calls from Republicans, and a few Democrats, to resign, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said last week he plans to refer the federal charges against Oaks to the General Assembly’s Ethics Committee — a move that could be the first step in Oaks’ removal.

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