Allegation Surfaced In 2013 Grand Jury Petition
For a person who does not know the back story, the arrest of former Rogers County Commissioner Kirt Thatcher on two embezzlement charges would be routine. Public officials are often brought up on various corruption charges. There is more to this one.
The charges, filed April 24, 2015, allege Thacker used a county bulldozer and track hoe to build a stock pond on farmland he had leased. The illegal use of county equipment while he was a county commissioner is alleged to have occurred nearly four years earlier – around June, 2011.
Count two of the indictment alleges Thacker in May, 2012 assigned a county road crew under his supervision to repair a driveway of an area non-profit association without authorization of the county commission.
A closer look at the arrest warrant reveals an interesting detail. A Rogers County sheriff’s investigator, Jeremiah Daniels, had been assigned to investigate the allegations in early July, 2011. When Daniels traveled to rural Inola to investigate, he was assisted by Claremore police investigator John Singer.
Fast forward about two years. On August 26, 2013, Singer — along with Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton and several other Rogers County residents — filed a citizens petition seeking to empanel a grand jury. They wanted the grand jury to investigate various allegations against the Rogers County Commission and the Rogers County District Attorney.
Among questions the 2013 citizens’ petition asked a grand jury to consider was whether Thacker had used a county county bulldozer to build a pond on farmland he leased.
By the time nearly 7,000 Rogers County residents signed the citizens’ petition in 2013, Singer had filed a separate lawsuit in federal court. He alleged then Rogers County DA Janice Steidley had fabricated perjury allegations against him. Her motive, Singer alleged, involved Singer’s wife’s interest in running for Steidley’s job in the 2014 election.
Allegations in the citizens’ petition included more or less the same claim. Petitioners wanted to know if Steidley had falsely reported a crime by asking the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate Singer’s alleged perjury.
The perjury accusation involved Singer allegedly overstating a suspect’s statements as an admission in a sex crime investigation. The suspect had said he only realized after the fact that an alleged victim did not want his advances.
That is intriguing enough, but there was more to the grand jury petition. Much more.
Rogers County Purchasing Practices Questioned
Petitioners sought an investigation of county commission purchasing policies. They alleged county commissioners might have split purchases to avoid broaching thresholds that would require seeking competitive bids. The petition alluded to alleged gratuities and campaign donations associated with questionable purchasing practices.
Singer, Sheriff Walton and the petitioners were not the first to raise questions about bid splitting. In a Nov. 15, 2012 editorial, the Claremore Daily Progress had cited a letter from the Oklahoma Attorney General telling county commissioners they had violated at least the intent of the Oklahoma bid splitting law.
The AG’s letter said, “there is even some evidence that would indicated each of you did so with specific and knowing intent.”
County commissioners were advised in the letter to avail themselves of advice from the DA’s office before engaging in such questionable practices. The Claremore Daily Progress editor pointed out that an assistant DA had provided advice to commissioners before the bid splitting was alleged.
The newspaper’s editorial alleged an assistant DA, David Iski, had “been allowing them (county commissioners) to break the law time and time again.”
Steidley and her assistants responded by filing a libel lawsuit against the newspaper. It was one of several libel suits Steidley and others targeted in the citizens’ petition filed against critics.
In another lawsuit, she sued Singer. She sued Singer’s wife. She sued his mother, and his stepfather. She sued Walton. She sued an attorney who allegedly helped file the grand jury petition. She sued a former special district judge.
Thacker – the county commissioner now charged with embezzlement – sued many of the same people. Language in his libel lawsuit virtually mirrored language in the DA’s lawsuits.
Rogers County DA Fights Back
Libel lawsuits were only one prong of Steidley’s counter-attack. Her attorney persuaded a Tulsa judge to dismiss the grand jury petition on the basis of a technicality.
Singer appeared at that hearing – without an attorney – to defend the petition process. The Tulsa court dismissed the petition because signature pages containing nearly 7,000 names included summaries that were not pre-approved by a court, as Steidley’s attorney asserted Oklahoma law requires in a grand jury petition.
After the court tossed the grand jury petition, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office agreed that a multi-county grand jury would investigate the numerous allegations spelled out in the petition. In August, 2014, that grand jury returned harsh words but no true bill – legalese for no indictments – against anyone named in the citizens’ petition.
Harsh words the grand jury published in its final report criticized Steidley’s handling of allegations against Singer. Steidely had released the allegations long after they were known to her, and only after Singer’s wife expressed interest in running for the DA’s office, the grand jury concluded.
The Fourteenth Multicounty Grand Jury did not investigate four of the allegations leveled in the grand jury petition. They ran out of time, the jurors’ final report stated. Those four remaining allegations included the specific 2011 allegations against Thacker for which he was charged in April, 2015.
The other allegations for which the multicounty grand jury in August, 2014 recommended further investigation included:
- allegations of 2009 bid splitting by Thacker and County Commissioner Mike Helm,
- 2012 purchases by Helm alleged to have been outside of bid requirements and
- alleged 2012 campaign finance violations by Helm involving corporations that received millions of dollars in contracts from Rogers County.
Public Corruption Clouds Criminal Justice
Least we join a gleeful chorus celebrating the downfall of a public official, I would remind readers we are a criminal defense law firm. As does the U.S. criminal justice system, we afford every accused person a presumption of innocence unless and until they are convicted in a court of law.
We have followed the Rogers County controversies with keen interest in part because Rogers County is a community where clients, family and friends of our firm live and work. More importantly we took an early interest when we learned a Claremore police investigator might have been less than reliable.
To the extent – as the multi-county grand jury stated – “Detective A (Singer) should have taken much greater care to use precise language in the Probable Cause Affidavit,” we concur.
Beyond that, we maintain that when such irregularities come to light, a district attorney should not wait more than a year to reveal concerns to defense attorneys.
The fact that information about a police officer’s conduct potentially helpful to defendants was withheld causes us to wonder how often similar information is never provided to criminal defense lawyers. And we have to ask how often political alliances affect the way prosecutors or police manage information about their professional peers for political advantage.
Insinuations that the DA’s office only exposed concerns about a police investigator after the DA’s job security was challenged demonstrates why public officials must always run a clean, tight ship. Public officials’ primary obligation is to the public – not to the political alliances that are so often part of an electoral system.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Criminal Attorney
If you are charged with a crime in Rogers County, or anywhere in Northeast Oklahoma, and believe public corruption might have tainted handling of the case against you, contact an Oklahoma criminal defense attorney to explore your options.
For a free, confidential consultation with a criminal attorney at Wirth Law Office, call (918) 879-1681 or send us an email using the form at the top of this page.