Probe into Oklahoma Tax Commission expanded

| 7/19/2002

According to a story in The Oklahoman, law enforcement officials have executed search warrants on the offices of two Oklahoma Tax Commission administrators and the home of an agency auditor. The searches were part of a grand jury's broadening investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption by commission employees.

The offices of Stephen G. Smith, the Tax Commission's enforcement administrator, and David Gene Nicholson, administrator over the commission's truck registration division, reportedly were searched July 16 in Oklahoma City. Law enforcement officers have also searched the home of agency auditor Leon Qualls Jr.

Authorities have been investigating whether private trucking agents paid bribes to OTC employees to get cheaper tags. The probe began as a Tax Commission internal investigation.

Former Tax Commission auditor Billy Bruce Baber last month became the first person indicted in the probe when he was charged with making a death threat to a former trucking agent in a failed attempt to keep the agent from turning over incriminating documents or testifying about their "criminal activity."

The trucking agent, Ronnie E. Cantwell Jr., testified at Baber's bail hearing that a trucking company had paid his firm $176,000 for its tags, but Baber reworked the estimated mileage on the bill so only $76,000 went to the OTC. Cantwell said the remaining $100,000 was divided among himself, Baber, trucking agent Dan Kiplinger and former Tax Commission auditor Brian Brantley.

Baber resigned after he came under suspicion. Brantley resigned after refusing to answer the grand jury's questions. As of July 17, Nicholson, Smith and Qualls reportedly have not had any disciplinary action taken against them by the Tax Commission.