Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Former Oklahoma Lawmaker Pleads Guilty to Mail Fraud Conspiracy

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Former Oklahoma Lawmaker Pleads Guilty to Mail Fraud Conspiracy

Article excerpt

A former Oklahoma lawmaker pleaded guilty Friday to federal mail fraud conspiracy connected to a probe of legislators allegedly funneling state dollars to private businesses and enriching themselves in the process.

"In the plea hearing today, the defendant admitted participating in the charged conspiracy," Muskogee U.S. Attorney Sheldon Sperling said in a statement.

According to the plea agreement, former Rep. Mike Mass pledged to cooperate fully in the ongoing investigation.

"If the defendant provides substantial assistance, as defined by law, the United States will request that the court depart below the otherwise applicable sentencing guideline," the agreement reads.

Upon conviction, the maximum penalty for federal mail fraud is a fine of $250,000, five years in prison, or both.

Sperling said that Mass specifically admitted causing a $250,000 check to be mailed in furtherance of the conspiracy.

"In response to questioning from the court, he explicitly acknowledged the scheme was committed with intent to obtain money under false pretenses," Sperling said.

An FBI affidavit used to back up search warrants in early March identified Mass and two other former legislators, Randall Erwin of Nashoba and Jerry Hefner of Wagoner, as well as businessman Steve Phipps and former state Sen. Gene Stipe, both of McAlester, as alleged participants in the scheme.

However, only Mass has been charged.

Federal prosecutors allege that from August 2002 through December 2005, Mass conspired with two other legislators to steer funds to the Rural Development Foundation, which would then forward the funds to National Pet Products and Indian Nation Entertainment Corp., owned by Steve Phipps.

Phipps is a former business partner of Stipe, who is being investigated by a federal grand jury in a campaign funding probe.

Last month, the FBI seized computers and records from the offices of Stipe and his accountant. …

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