TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A former vice chairman of the Oklahoma Senate's Finance Committee was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison Friday after admitting he stole $1.8 million from the nonprofit agency where he worked for 16 years.
The Better Business Bureau last year accused Rick Brinkley, 54, of setting up fake corporations to pay his bills and support a gambling habit. After state and federal investigators stepped in, the former Republican state senator from Owasso pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to five counts of mail fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return.
"I'm here because of the crime I committed and I have to accept my punishment," Brinkley said outside federal court. "I'm going to pay my debt to society and move on."
Federal Judge Claire Eagan imposed Brinkley's prison term Friday after entering a restitution order last month at the government's request.
"Unfortunately, we continue to see the public's confidence in the tax system shaken by individuals such as Mr. Brinkley, who apparently feel they can operate above the law, and skip out on paying their fair share of income taxes," said R. Damon Row, an IRS Criminal Investigation agent in charge.
Brinkley, a two-term senator who faced 20 years on each fraud count and three years on the tax charge, said he stole the money to support his life as "an escape gambler."
"I needed to go to a place where no one knew me," he said in video posted by Tulsa television station KJRH. "It was a good place to escape, and then it became an addiction."
Brinkley was president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Tulsa from 1999 to 2011, then its chief operating officer until last year, when the BBB sued claiming he had defrauded the agency. Investigators said that, during a 10-year period, Brinkley created fraudulent invoices for services not rendered and then submitted them to the BBB as legitimate expenses. He also used BBB's money to pay personal expenses, including a pool-cleaning service at his home.
He negotiated a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and resigned his seat a year before being eligible for state retirement benefits tied to his term in the Legislature.
Brinkley lawyer Mack Martin said last year that Brinkley had spent two months receiving inpatient treatment for a gambling addiction and that the guilty plea was part of his recovery.
Separately, Brinkley previously forfeited $81,000 in campaign funds to the state to settle allegations he had improperly used campaign funds by making a $50,000 payment to the BBB in an effort to conceal the fraud.
A Democrat, J.J. Dossett, was elected in January to replace Brinkley in the Senate.