Ex-Sen. Oaks Will Be Released From Federal Prison

Nathaniel T. Oaks (right), then serving in the state Senate, confers with former Sen. Larry Young in the Senate lounge in early 2018. Photo by William F. Zorzi

Incarcerated former state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D) is coming home to Baltimore.

A federal judge on Tuesday granted Oaks “a compassionate release,” agreeing with Oaks’ contention that remaining in prison could endanger his health.

Oaks, 73, is serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges two years ago. He has served about half of his sentence — 21 months — so far.

In his order, U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett — who presided over Oaks’ federal trial, before he pleaded guilty — said the former lawmaker is “suffering from a series of serious medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, asthma, anemia, hyperlipidemia, and arthritis. These medical conditions place him at a significant risk of severe complications in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Bennett ordered Oaks to serve the remainder of his sentence on home detention, initially at his brother’s Baltimore home. He will be forced to wear an electronic monitoring device and is banned from consuming alcohol for the duration of his sentence. He will be subject to random drug and alcohol tests.

“It is highly unlikely that Oaks will commit another serious crime,” Bennett wrote.

Oaks will remain at a minimum-security federal correction center in Petersburg, Va., where he will be quarantined for 14 days and then undergo medical testing before being sent home.

In 2018, Oaks confessed to accepting $15,000 in bribes from an FBI informant, who posed as an out-of-town businessman interested in seeking federal aid to build apartments in Baltimore.

Oaks was a 30-year veteran of the General Assembly, spending most of that time in the House of Delegates. He was appointed to the Senate in 2017, following the resignation, for health reasons, of former Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D).

During the course of the federal investigation involving Oaks and other Baltimore political figures and business leaders, the lawmaker agreed to wear a wire and become an FBI informant. But he later changed his mind, alerting a local bail bondsman that he was a possible target of the probe. That brought him an extra obstruction of justice charge.

Bennett said during Oaks’ sentencing that he would have given the ex-lawmaker a lighter sentence until he dropped his agreement with the FBI to wear a wire.

Oaks’ federal case wasn’t his first scrape with the law: Early in his legislative career, he was convicted of theft charges related to double-billing his legislative expenses.

That conviction was changed in 1990, at his request, to probation before judgment by a Baltimore judge.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.