Well, the fifth indictment in 2003 was apparently the charm. Stipe not only resigned his state senate seat, but, in 2004, he pled guilty to perjury, obstructing the investigation, and conspiracy. Stipe was sentenced to six months home detention, five years probation, 1,000 hours of community service and fined more than a million dollars. He also lost his law license.
Which brings us to the question of Mr. Stipe’s pension. Well, almost. First, I should mention that Stipe has since been indicted a sixth time, in 2007, for mail fraud, witness tampering, money laundering, and (once again) conspiracy. The charges involve an alleged plot to acquire state funding for use by private businesses.
Gene’s brother, Francis Stipe, has already pled guilty to all counts. Whether Gene, 81, will be tried for the same crimes depends now on his mental competency to stand trial. Suffering from apparent dementia, he has been declared incompetent and is currently being re-evaluated by prison doctors in Springfield, Missouri.
Now that you know a little bit about Mr. Stipe, you should also know that the state board administering Oklahoma’s retirement system ruled that Stipe’s crimes violated his oath of office. That’s important because a 1981 law requires that when crimes committed by a legislator violate the oath of office, that legislator’s pension benefits are to be forfeit.
Thus, the state of Oklahoma began sending Stipe a monthly pension of $1,572, for that portion of the long-tenured legislator’s pension related to his “work” before the 1981 law took effect. Stipe went to court arguing he should receive $7,042 a month.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed this past week to give Stipe his full pension, arguing that his crimes did not amount to a violation of his oath of office. The lone dissenter, Chief Justice Winchester, wrote, “I would assert that tampering with an election strikes at the very heart” of the oath. He was outvoted 7 to 1.
Three state supreme court justices sat this case out. Justices Yvonne Kauger and Steven Taylor recused themselves. Taylor cited his exposure to local news coverage about the case. Another justice, James Edmondson, brother of Attorney General Drew Edmondson, disqualified himself without explanation.
Stipe turns out to be a large contributor to Attorney General Edmondson, so it is no surprise that several Oklahomans have wondered out loud why the ever-activist state AG hasn’t been involved in going after all the corruption discovered by federal investigators, including that of solon Stipe. And reporters asked why the AG hadn’t returned a $1,000 contribution from Stipe.
Attorney General Edmondson has a ready reply . . . well, at least regarding the thousand-dollar check. He explained simply that he hadn’t returned Stipe’s money, because there was no conflict of interest, since, after all, he wasn’t investigating Stipe.