By William F. Zorzi
A federal judge has approved a defense motion in the public corruption case of Maryland state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks to withdraw an earlier request to agree, ahead of trial, to instruct a jury on entrapment, a court order filed Thursday shows.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett signed the last-minute motion by public defenders for the West Baltimore Democrat late Wednesday, as lawyers for both sides readied themselves for a motions hearing before him Friday morning in Baltimore.
Earlier this year, Lucius T. Outlaw III and Rebecca S. Talbott, the lawmaker’s defense attorneys, had asked Bennett to agree he would instruct the jury on a entrapment defense, should entrapment be proved at trial.
Outlaw and Talbott had strongly suggested in court filings that federal investigators — including FBI undercover sources using wiretaps and body wires – had entrapped Oaks as they pursued him over a nearly two-year period beginning in the summer of 2014. That was nearly three years before the lawmaker was first charged in the political corruption case.
But on Wednesday, without comment, Outlaw and Talbott seemed to back away from that trial strategy by filing a motion to withdraw the earlier entrapment request.
Also Wednesday, the defense filed a five-page letter bolstering memoranda it had already filed in support of motions pending before Bennett — which instantly drew objections from federal prosecutors.
Bennett sided with the prosecution Thursday issuing a “letter order” disallowing the defense submission on the eve of the motions hearing Friday as “inappropriate and not permitted by the Local Rules of this Court.”
The defense letter, Bennett found, “is essentially a supplemental legal memorandum.”
Oaks is charged with nine criminal counts related to a bribery scheme, in which he allegedly took $15,300 from an FBI confidential source posing as Texas developer “Mike 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 remaining two motions to be heard Friday by Bennett are defense requests to dismiss six of the 10 charges against Oaks.
Outlaw and Talbott argue 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.
The charges against Oaks thus far unchallenged by the defense are three counts of wire fraud and the obstruction count.
Oaks’ trial on the nine bribery-related charges is scheduled to begin April 16, a week after the Maryland General Assembly adjourns. A separate trial on the obstruction of justice charge is set for Aug. 20.