By William F. Zorzi
Without explanation, defense lawyers for Maryland state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks late Wednesday formally – and abruptly – dropped their earlier strong suggestion that federal investigators had entrapped the lawmaker in the public corruption case against him.
On the eve of a motions hearing Friday before U.S. District Court Richard D. Bennett, federal public defenders filed a motion to withdraw an earlier request for the judge to agree, ahead of trial, to instruct a jury on entrapment.
The defense motion comes as a bit of a last-minute surprise and was accompanied by a withdraw order for Bennett to sign. The motion was simple and to the point:
“Senator Nathaniel Thomas Oaks, by and through his undersigned counsel, hereby withdraws his Motion to Charge the Jury on Entrapment … from consideration by the Court, including during the motions hearing scheduled for March 16, 2018.”
The request was signed by Lucius T. Outlaw III and Rebecca S. Talbott, the West Baltimore Democrat’s defense lawyers.
Outlaw and Talbott had argued strenuously in earlier court filings that federal investigators – including FBI undercover sources using wiretaps and body wires – were relentless in their pursuit of Oaks over a nearly two-year period beginning in the summer of 2014.
The defense made a point of stating in the entrapment motion that the beginning of the probe was almost two years before Oaks allegedly took his first bribe from an FBI confidential source posing as Texas developer “Mike Henley,” in April 2016 — and nearly three years before the lawmaker was first charged with wire fraud, in April 2017.
Oaks was later charged in a superseding indictment in November with nine counts related to the bribery scheme, in which he allegedly took $15,300 from “Henley,” before he knew he was the target of a federal investigation.
The legislator is also charged with one count of obstruction of justice, which stems from allegations that while he later was supposed to be cooperating with federal investigators, he tipped off a target in the bail-bonds industry, known in his case only as “Person #1,” to the existence of a corruption probe.
Oaks has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The initial defense motion in support of the entrapment request of Bennett, filed Jan. 26, ran to 15 pages and painted an extraordinary picture of the persistence and scope of federal investigators in their ongoing probe of possible political corruption in and around the Maryland legislature and Baltimore City government.
The remaining two motions to be heard Friday by Bennett are defense requests to dismiss six of the 10 charges against Oaks.
The defense argues that five of the charges for violating the federal Travel Act by using an “interstate facility” (a cellular telephone) to violate the state’s bribery law should not apply. They maintain the sixth charge — “honest services wire fraud” – is not specific enough in its allegations, and that a key term used in the indictments, “official duties,” is “constitutionally vague.”
Federal prosecutors have rejected the defense assertions in multiple court filings.
Three charges against Oaks not thus far challenged by the defense are three counts of wire fraud.
Also late Wednesday, Outlaw and Talbott filed a letter to Bennett further explaining what they seemed to have already explained in earlier an earlier motion to dismiss the six charges.
The prosecution, however, responded in kind, objecting to the defense’s letter with a curt and sharply worded letter, urging Bennett to reject the “last-minute” submission, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore “at 4:59 p.m.” Wednesday.
“This is the second time the defendant has ignored the [U.S. District Court’s] Local Rules and submitted [a] lengthy legal argument, disguised as correspondence, well after legal briefing has been completed within the schedule set forth by the Court,” wrote Kathleen O. Gavin, the lead assistant U.S. attorney in the case. “The defendant’s repeated violation of the rules should not be permitted or condoned.”
The motions hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.
Oaks’s trial on the nine bribery-related charges is scheduled to begin April 16, a week after the Maryland General Assembly adjourns. The obstruction of justice trial is set for Aug. 20.