Ex-commissioners' felonies tossed; pleas entered for misdemeanors
Rogers County indictments dismissed pursuant to plea agreements in other cases
A Rogers County judge has dismissed a felony conspiracy case against two former Rogers County commissioners accused of trying to defraud the county while in office, but both men entered pleas to misdemeanor charges in separate but related cases.
The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office issued an indictment against Kirt Thacker in July 2015 based on a multicounty grand jury investigation that implicated him and another commissioner, Michael Helm, in the possible misuse of county property.
But court records show the indictments against Thacker and Helm were dismissed pursuant to plea agreements they reached in their other cases.
Thacker on Monday entered an Alford plea — meaning he maintains his innocence but acknowledges there is sufficient evidence to make a finding of guilt — to “obtaining a thing of value” less than $500. He was originally accused of two counts of felony embezzlement.
Court minutes indicate District Judge Terry McBride imposed a six-month suspended jail sentence during which Thacker will not be under supervised probation.
Helm was also charged in his other case with felony embezzlement but pleaded guilty May 30 to obtaining property by false pretenses, for which McBride handed down a one-year suspended sentence and ordered a payment of $2,000 in restitution.
The Attorney General's Office moved Nov. 2 to dismiss the conspiracy case against Helm based on the May plea deal. A spokesman for the agency declined a request on Tuesday to comment on the resolution of both cases.
The grand jury began investigating claims of wrongdoing in 2013 after Rogers County residents took concerns to the Attorney General's Office. The grand jurors determined that Helm sold a county pickup truck bed in May 2014 to a resident while serving as commissioner but that Helm did not give the county money from the transaction.
Thacker, according to the documents, was accused of ordering county employees to use countyowned equipment to make improvements to his personal property.
Helm's attorney, Stan Monroe, said Tuesday that the felony case against his client “was without merit,” adding that neither Helm nor Thacker received any benefit in connection with the allegations. Monroe said Helm used the proceeds from the truck bed sale for “various employee functions” rather than depositing it in the county treasury, which was why he opted to enter a plea to the misdemeanor.
“Mr. Helm served Rogers County very well during his tenure as a commissioner, and it was disappointing to see his career as commissioner end the way it did,” he said. “In hindsight, there were errors in judgment, but he had no criminal intent.
“That said, Mr. Helm is moving on with his life. To the extent that the citizens of Rogers County believe Commissioner Helm let them down, he does offer his sincere apology, but hopes that everyone realizes he is not a criminal.”
In July 2015, other commissioners voted to ask the attorney general to seek Helm's removal from office. He was suspended two months later following the grand jury's accusation, and is still fighting the suspension despite his term expiring at the end of 2016.
Helm is set to appear Dec. 11 in Rogers County District Court for a hearing on the accusation.
Thacker lost a re-election bid in 2014 and has since filed several defamation lawsuits against Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton, Claremore police officers and the Claremore Daily Progress newspaper. He contends he was wrongly targeted by the sheriff and others beginning with a failed October 2013 Rogers County grand jury petition, which he claims was the beginning of an effort to destroy his personal and political reputation.
The 2013 petition also went before a multicounty grand jury, which issued no indictments by the end of its session in August 2014. However, grand jurors said they supported continued investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by Thacker and Helm because they did not have enough time to complete their inquiry.