Oaks Resigns From State Senate and Will Appear in Court Thursday

By William F. Zorzi

State Senator Nathaniel T. Oaks, under indictment on political corruption charges, resigned from the Maryland Senate Wednesday night, effective at 9 a.m. Thursday – two hours before he is scheduled to appear in federal court.

Oaks, 71, reportedly will enter a guilty plea before U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett, though it was unclear which charge or charges of the 10 corruption counts against him he would plead guilty to.

On Wednesday night, the West Baltimore Democrat, accompanied by his close friend, former state Sen. Larry Young, met privately with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and submitted his letter of resignation. The letter was not made available Wednesday night.

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State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks confers in the Senate lounge Wednesday night with radio host and former Sen. Larry Young, just moments before offering his resignation. Photo by William F. Zorzi

Oaks is charged in a 10-count indictment with fraud and obstruction of justice charges.

Nine of the charges are related to allegations that Oaks took $15,300 in a bribery scheme involving an FBI confidential source who posed as a Texas businessman wanting to do business in Baltimore. A single obstruction of justice count stems from allegations that while he was supposed to be cooperating with federal investigators, he tipped off a target to the existence of the corruption probe.

Oaks had pleaded not guilty earlier to all the charges.

It was rumored late Wednesday afternoon that Oaks would resign before the start of the Senate’s night session – the second session of the day for the upper house – and not be present for a planned extended debate. But he instead surprised many of his colleagues by walking in and taking his seat.

Asked as he entered the chamber if he would be making an announcement, Oaks said, “I think maybe Thursday.”

Young, clad in a bright green Boston Celtics warmup jacket, had come to Annapolis in a show of support for Oaks. For most of the evening, he waited in the Senate Lounge for the legislative session to finish.

Asked as he waited if Oaks was going to resign, Young said, “I don’t know. He’s deciding now.”

After the Senate floor session — Round Two in an extended debate of a hotly contested school construction measure — Oaks walked into the lounge and sat with Young, a Baltimore radio talk show host who was expelled from the Senate in 1998 amid an ethics investigation.

At that point, Oaks had not made his intentions known, and Miller fielded questions from reporters in a hallway nearby.

Miller said he had no idea whether Oaks had decided to resign.

“You know, it’s a decision he’s going to make, that he and his lawyer’s got to make. They’re the only two to make the decision,” Miller said. “I know that it’s been tentatively discussed, but it’s a working decision between the federal prosecutor, his lawyer and himself, and I have not been privy to any of the conversations.”

Miller then walked into his office. Within a matter of minutes, Oaks and Young followed and met with the Senate president briefly.

The two men then left the State House, but did not take questions. Miller was unavailable for further comment.

Oaks, a West Baltimore Democrat representing District 41, was most recently a member of the House of Delegates for 22 years, until Feb. 10, 2017, when he was appointed to the Maryland Senate, replacing Lisa A. Gladden who resigned her seat due to health problems.

When Oaks was sworn in as a senator, Young was among his witnesses on the Maryland Senate rostrum as he took the oath of office from Miller.

Earlier, Oaks also had been a member of the House of Delegates, first elected in 1982, but was forced to forfeit his seat in 1989, after being convicted of theft charges related to double-billing his legislative expenses. That conviction was reduced in 1990, at his request, to probation before judgment by a Baltimore judge.

Oaks’ Senate resignation was first reported Wednesday afternoon by WOLB-AM radio. The Baltimore radio station reported that Oaks wanted to provide “the exclusive” to Young, whose talk show is on the channel.

WOLB-AM also reported Wednesday that Oaks would “enter a plea agreement,” but offered no further details.

Young had met Tuesday with Oaks and others in Annapolis after milling about in the House of Delegates and Senate lounges.

Last month, Miller stripped Oaks of his Finance Committee seat, upon recommendation of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. pending the outcome of his federal trial and the committee’s own investigation afterwards.

Oaks’ trial on the nine charges was scheduled to begin April 16, a week after the Maryland General Assembly adjourns.

The obstruction of justice trial is set for Aug. 20, though it was unclear last night what bearing his appearance Thursday in federal court would have on that case.

Oaks has filed as a candidate for his District 41 Senate seat representing West Baltimore. As of last night, he was still registered for the run with the State Board of Elections.

Former Del. Jill P. Carter and former teacher J.D. Merrill, the son-in-law of ex-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), are also seeking the Democratic Senate nomination.

bzorzi@marylandmatters.org

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that when Oaks was sworn in as a senator, former state Sen. Larry Young called up a page from the Bible on his cellphone for use in the ceremony. In fact, another witness present on the Senate rostrum, Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, pulled out his cellphone and retrieved a page from the Bible, as former Sen. Young looked on.

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