“Lollipop” was code word for cash, investigators say, charging Oaks with taking bribes
Longtime Baltimore legislator pleads not guilty to accepting $15,300 in bribes
Above: Then-senator Nathaniel Oaks at a 2013 community meeting in Northwest Baltimore. (Fern Shen)
The affidavit filed along with a federal wire fraud charge announced today against State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks paints a picture of a politician well aware of the risks of his alleged acts.
At one point, Oaks and an FBI source, posing as an out-of-town businessman needing help with a real estate project, go to buy a prepaid cell phone, a “burner,” to avoid detection.
There is talk of “speaking in code” and pretty soon, according to the 21-page narrative released today, they develop one.
“Lollipop” is designated as the coded word for each thousand-dollar increment of the alleged payoffs that Oaks negotiates with the FBI source, according to the affidavit.
In an April 2016 conversation, the FBI source asked Oaks how much he wanted to be compensated and Oaks placed a chocolate Tootsie Pop in his mouth. The source held up five fingers to signify $5,000.
“Oaks shook his head from side to side and then made an upward motion with his thumb,” indicating he wanted more, authorities wrote.
At another point, during a discussion about avoiding law enforcement detection, the source says to Oaks, “That’s why we need to work out no trail.”
Oaks allegedly replies, “That’s right.”
“Can’t nobody come back say I got you on tape,” Oaks allegedly went on to say.
“You ain’t got me on tape saying a mother fucking thing but mother fuck.”
Oaks Pleads Not Guilty
Those alleged comments were among the hours of voice recordings and videotapes that appear to be key components of the single count of “honest services wire fraud” filed against the longtime state lawmaker today in U.S. District Court.
Oaks turned himself in this afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the charge, resulting from an investigation conducted when he was in the House of Delegates.
In January, Oaks (who goes by “Nat”) was chosen by the Democratic State Central Committee to fill the 41st District Senate seat left vacant when Lisa A. Gladden resigned for health reasons.
He had been a member of the House of Delegates from 1983 to 1989, but forfeited his seat when he was convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from his reelection fund.
As a result of that conviction, Oaks received a five-year suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 500 hours of community service.
The voters returned him to the House in 1995.
Today Oaks was led into, and out of, the federal courtroom in handcuffs, but was released on his own recognizance.
During his appearance, he had no jacket or belt and was not wearing his signature kufi hat.
The charge, stemming from allegations that he took cash payments in exchange for using his position as a legislator to influence a development project, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
After the 70-year-old Oaks’ brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark J. Coulson, his court-appointed attorney, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms, declined to comment.
Oaks appears to have filed an affidavit claiming he was unable to afford counsel.
Attorney Kobie Flowers, of Greenbelt, also appeared on Oaks’ behalf.
Hotel Room Payments
In all, Oaks is alleged to have accepted $15,300 in cash in return for misusing his State House letterhead and introducing legislation for the fake real estate project.
The source, posing as a businessman, according to the complaint, told Oaks he was interested in obtaining contracts in Baltimore through a minority-owned business.
That business “is a real business that is operated by a different cooperating defendant who is assisting the FBI with the investigation,” the complaint notes.
In September 2015, Oaks met the source at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Pikesville and discussed with him a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) project. According to the affidavit, Oaks showed the source potential sites in the city.
“I’mma do everything within my power and my authority to lead you right into the, to the place where you can do well,” Oaks was recorded as saying, according to the complaint.
In a March 2016 conversation, the source told Oaks that he was going to need a letter of support for the project sent to his contact at HUD, and Oaks provided one, scripted by the source and written on his official letterhead.
“It contained various false statements about Oaks’ relationship to the source and Oaks’ involvement and knowledge of the project,” the affidavit said.
On May 11, 2016, the source allegedly paid Oaks $5,000 in cash in the source’s hotel room.
In July, the complaint alleges, Oaks provided a second letter to be sent to HUD, this time misrepresenting that Oaks had obtained state matching funds for the project. This resulted in a second $5,000 cash payment, the affidavit said.
Oaks also allegedly filed a $250,000 bond bill for the project for a site – outside of his legislative district – on Druid Park Lake Drive, a large vacant city-owned lot.
The source had told Oaks it was needed to reassure the bank “because the project was not progressing more quickly.”
On September 22, the source again paid Oaks $5,000 in cash, the affidavit says.
On November 21, Oaks sent the source a copy of “LR0680,” a bill drafted by the Department of Legislative Services entitled “Creation of a State Debt – Baltimore City – Multifamily Housing Development at Druid Lake Park.”
In a footnote, the prosecutors explain why the alleged total payment to Oaks does not add up to an even $15,000.
“After the [May 2016] payment, it was determined that [the source] had inadvertently given Oaks $5,300 in cash,” they wrote.
During a subsequent recorded telephone conversation, the two discussed the $300 over-payment using coded language.
During the call, Oaks allegedly told the source: “The score was off by three. I won by three.”