By William F. Zorzi
A U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore Friday scheduled the second corruption trial of Maryland State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks to begin Aug. 20.
Judge Richard D. Bennett’s order that Oaks’ trial on a single obstruction of justice charge start this summer means that the case would take place four months after the West Baltimore Democrat’s first trial, on nine fraud charges, is scheduled to begin.
The first trial is scheduled for April 16, a week after the Maryland General Assembly adjourns its 90-day session and roughly two months before the state’s June 26 primary election, when Oaks would have to run to retain his District 41 seat.
The single obstruction count stems from allegations that while Oaks was supposed to be cooperating with federal investigators, he tipped off a target in the bail-bonds industry, known only as “Person #1” in court papers, to the existence of a corruption probe.
Federal public defenders for Oaks earlier this year convinced Bennett to separate the obstruction of justice trial from a trial on the other nine counts.
That trial, scheduled for April, is on charges related to allegations that Oaks took $15,300 in a bribery scheme involving an FBI confidential source, known as “Mike Henley,” who posed as a Texas businessman wanting to do business in Baltimore. At that point in time, Oaks was unaware of the federal investigation; it was only later, when he became aware of the probe, that he agreed to work with investigators.
Oaks has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Defense lawyers asked Bennett last month to dismiss seven of 10 charges against Oaks – one count of “honest service wire fraud,” five counts of violating the federal Travel Act and the obstruction of justice count. That leaves three counts of wire fraud.
The defense also has asked Bennett to agree, before the start of the first trial, to instruct the jury about entrapment.
Federal prosecutors have argued in filings this month against the dismissals – and against even a suggestion of entrapment.
Bennett has not yet ruled on those motions.
Oaks, 71, filed paperwork to seek a full term on Friday.
Oaks had a fundraiser Jan. 4 at the Forest Park Golf Course Clubhouse in Baltimore – to “celebrate the 21st anniversary of [his] 50th birthday” — a week before the start of the legislative session, when such events are prohibited generally for lawmakers. Ticket prices ranged from $112 to $1,000.
His campaign had $123,255.63 in cash on hand as of Jan. 10, 2018, the date of the last campaign finance report filing required by the Board of Elections.
Oaks was a member of the House of Delegates representing District 41 until Feb. 10, 2017, when he was appointed to the Maryland Senate, replacing Lisa A. Gladden, who resigned her seat due to health problems.
The only candidate to have filed for the Democratic Senate primary in Oaks’ 41st District is J.D. Merrill, a former teacher and son-in-law of ex-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D). Other candidates could still come forward before the filing deadline at 9 p.m. Tuesday.