Five indicted in Oklahoma Tax Commission inquiry

| Friday, July 26, 2002

A grand jury issued a sealed indictment July 24 naming five people in its kickback investigation of the Oklahoma Tax Commission, according to The Oklahoman. The probe is linked to bribery and corruption allegations involving commission employees and private trucking agents.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said the indictment will be unsealed when all defendants have been notified and arrangements are made for their court appearances.

A court hearing reportedly could take place as soon as Aug. 1.

Last month, former Tax Commission auditor Billy Bruce Baber became the first person indicted in the investigation, which focused on the agency's truck registration division. He was charged with making a death threat to former trucking agent Ronnie E. Cantwell Jr. in a failed attempt to keep him from turning over incrementing documents or testifying about their "criminal activity."

Last week, law enforcement officials searched the offices of Tax Commission administrators Stephen G. Smith and David Gene Nicholson and the residence of agency auditor Leon Qualls Jr.

Authorities are investigating whether private trucking agents paid bribes to Tax Commission employees to get cheaper tags. Agency officials first turned up alleged wrongdoing in an internal probe and sought assistance from the attorney general.

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

Brantley resigned after refusing to answer the grand jury's questions. Nicholson was the supervisor over Baber, Brantley and Qualls.

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