NATIONAL NEWS

Oklahoma AG to drop charges against GOP Rep. and his wife

Apr 6, 2023, 3:19 PM

FILE - This combo of Jan. 6, 2022, booking photos provided by the Midwest City, Okla., Jail shows O...

FILE - This combo of Jan. 6, 2022, booking photos provided by the Midwest City, Okla., Jail shows Oklahoma House Speaker Pro Tempore Terry O'Donnell and his wife Teresa O'Donnell. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said Thursday, April 6, 2023, that he plans to drop all criminal charges against O’Donnell and his wife. O'Donnell was accused of misusing his power as a lawmaker to change state law so his wife could become a tag agent. (Midwest City Jail via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Midwest City Jail via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Criminal charges against a Republican state lawmaker in Oklahoma that accused him of abusing his power by changing state law so his wife could become a tag agent are being dropped, Attorney General Gentner Drummond said on Thursday.

Drummond said in a letter that he was dismissing charges against state Rep. Terry O’Donnell and his wife because he concluded that former Attorney General Mike Hunter ordered the investigation “for the purpose of political retribution.”

“It was no secret then, and it is well established now, that the former attorney general had ample motive to target you,” Drummond wrote to O’Donnell. “He concealed this motive from the district attorney’s office, resulting in a series of events that culminated in criminal indictments,” he said of Hunter.

Hunter and O’Donnell had settlement with opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma and how much of that settlement was paid to outside attorneys.

Messages left Thursday with Hunter were not immediately returned.

O’Donnell, a Catoosa Republican, was indicted in December 2021 on five felony counts and three misdemeanors while his wife, Teresa O’Donnell, was charged with three felonies and one misdemeanor.

In 2019, O’Donnell introduced a bill that removed a prohibition from state law that said spouses of legislators couldn’t serve as tag agents. Three months after Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law, the Oklahoma Tax Commission appointed his wife to take over the Catoosa Tag Agency.

O’Donnell and his wife were accused of submitting a fraudulent application to the tax commission, which appoints the state’s more than 300 independent tag agents. Tag agents provide services such as motor vehicle registrations and renewals, and they issue license plates, handle vehicle title transfers and lien releases. They also provide notary services, and can issue state and local hunting and fishing licenses.

Neither O’Donnell nor his attorneys responded on Thursday to messages seeking comment on Drummond’s decision.

In his letter to O’Donnell, Drummond noted that he did not endorse O’Donnell’s conduct in the matter.

“I question your judgment in authoring legislation that resulted in a benefit for your family,” Drummond wrote. “Your decisions contributed significantly to the consequences you have endured.”

O’Donnell, who has maintained his innocence, resigned from his post as the No. 2 leader in the House after the charges were filed.

Drummond, who took over the case from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office earlier this year, said another reason he decided to drop the charges is that the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits lawmakers from voting on bills in which they have a personal or private interest that has not been “aggressively or equally enforced.”

“The fact that you were singularly referred for prosecution guides my decision to dismiss the charges against you,” he wrote. “In doing so, I make clear that this law, and all others, will be fairly and fully enforced in the future against all members of the Legislature.”

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Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter: @apseanmurphy

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