Lawmaker Looks Deeper into Possible Ethics Violations by Governor

Article excerpt

Oklahoma Democratic Party executive director Gordon Melson is taking his questions about almost $250,000 in cash given to Gov. Frank Keating by retired financier Jack Dreyfus to the State Ethics Commission, attorney general and possibly the U.S. attorney's office.

Keating has acknowledged receiving $10,000 for each of his three children annually over an eight- or nine-year period. However, he says the funds were gifts from a friend that went toward his children's education-related expenses and summer trips.

The governor does not believe he violated ethics rules or state or federal tax laws by accepting the money.

Although the governor also admits to setting up meetings between Dreyfus and both federal and state prison officials concerning the use of the drug Dilantin to keep inmates calm, Keating says the contributions from Dreyfus did not constitute influence-peddling or bribes. Both men, and the corrections officials involved, say nothing came of these meetings.

Dreyfus, founder of a line of mutual funds, is a proponent of Dilantin, with which he credits his own triumph over clinical depression.

At a State Capitol news conference Thursday, Melson said the revelation that Dreyfus met with both current corrections Director James Saffle and his predecessor Larry Fields shows the matter warrants an official probe.

Melson cited a tax expert quoted in a Dallas newspaper article who said that the status of each $10,000 as a true gift depends upon how it was used. He said Keating's effort at setting up the meetings for Dreyfus could have changed the character of the funds into payments prohibited by law.

The Democratic party official attempted to make a verbal request for an Ethics Commission investigation at a public hearing Thursday afternoon.

However, commission Chair Ken Elliott said that such requests must be made in writing.

Melson said he would also ask Attorney General Drew Edmondson to bring the matter before the multi-county grand jury, in case documents must be subpoenaed.

"It will set a bad precedent if this goes unscrutinized," said Melson.

He indicated that he may postpone taking the case to the U.S. attorney's office, and possibly the Internal Revenue Service, until next week if Keating comes forth with certain documents absolving him of wrongdoing:

* His answers to the incoming Bush administration's background questionnaire. Keating was said to be under consideration for the post of attorney general before the Dreyfus gifts became known. Reportedly the information was leaked by someone on the Bush team. Melson said it would be agreeable to him if purely personal data is redacted from the questionnaire before it is made public.

"If Governor Keating is as clean as he claims to be on this and other matters, I think this would help clear the air," said Melson.

* An explanation as to how the money was deposited and spent.

"This information will help determine whether the governor following federal and state law on these gifts," Melson said. …