OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma legislator charged with hiring a 17-year-old boy for sex resigned on Wednesday, saying he didn't want to be a distraction to his fellow lawmakers.
Republican Sen. Ralph Shortey was arrested last week on charges of engaging in child prostitution, transporting a minor for prostitution and engaging in prostitution within 1,000 feet of church. The 35-year-old married father submitted a resignation letter to the Senate and GOP Gov. Mary Fallin that said he would step down immediately.
"I appreciate the service the men and women of the Oklahoma Senate provide, and I recognize the need for the business of the Senate to proceed without distraction for the remainder of the legislative session," Shortey said in the letter.
Oklahoma's most prominent Republican leaders had called for his resignation after he was charged.
Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, one of those who had called for Shortey to step down, said he accepted Shortey's resignation.
"To ensure justice is not impeded, the Oklahoma Senate will continue to cooperate with all authorities looking into this matter," Schulz said in a statement.
Shortey is out on $100,000 bond but expected to make an initial court appearance on Friday, according to his attorney, Ed Blau.
Acting on a tip from the teenager's father, police in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore say they went to a Super 8 Hotel earlier this month and smelled marijuana coming from a room. They say they found Shortey and the boy.
The allegations led to Shortey's removal from his volunteer position with the Oklahoma City YMCA's Youth and Government program, in which he has been active for 17 years and served as a chaperone on several out-of-state trips, YMCA spokeswoman Brenda Bennett said. She said she was unaware of any allegations of wrongdoing involving Shortey's work for the program, but that the agency is conducting an internal investigation.
A police report shows a search of the teen's tablet uncovered a series of sexually explicit exchanges in which Shortey referred to the teen as "baby boy" and offered him cash in exchange for "sexual stuff." The conversation had started with the teen messaging Shortey that he needed "money for spring break," police wrote. Officers also found lotion and an open box of condoms inside backpacks in the room.
Police say Shortey and the teen both told officers that they had known each other for about a year, having met through Craigslist and later communicating via the messenger application Kik.
The age of consent in Oklahoma is 16, but Oklahoma's child prostitution statute applies to any person under 18 years old. It's unclear from the police report or charging documents if Shortey and the teen actually had sex. But prosecutor Susan Caswell said her office wouldn't have to prove they did.
In the state Senate, Shortey built a name for himself by pushing bills targeting those living in the country illegally and expanding gun rights.
Shortey faced fierce public criticism earlier this year when he sponsored a bill to stiffen the penalties for drug possession within 1,000 feet of a school or church, even after Oklahoma voters in November voted to make such crimes misdemeanors.
Before his arrest, Shortey was perhaps best known for introducing a bill in 2012 that would have banned the use of aborted human fetuses in food — a measure that drew widespread ridicule and was never granted a hearing in a Senate committee.
Gov. Fallin has 30 days to set the dates for a special election for Shortey's Senate District 44 seat.
Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy