Education , Law & Principles

Jay Chilton | August 9, 2017

Prior to preliminary hearing, DA drops Hofmeister charges, for now

Jay Chilton

Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction is at least temporarily free of a prosecution threat and can focus instead on her 2018 reelection campaign.

On Aug. 1, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater moved to dismiss charges against Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and four others “pending further investigation.” The case involved alleged improprieties related to Hofmeister’s 2014 race, in which she unseated incumbent Janet Barresi in the Republican primary and went on to win in November.

The dismissal came 15 days ahead of the scheduled start for a preliminary hearing and nine months after the filing of five felony counts of conspiracy, collusion, and violation of election finance laws as well as the Computer Crimes Act.

Hofmeister has maintained her claim of innocence since she was indicted. “This is a joyful day for me and my family and a day for which we have long anticipated,” she said during a press conference immediately following Prater’s announcement that the charges were dropped. “I knew I was innocent. I knew I could not and I would not focus on anything but kids and I would not be distracted from the work I was elected to do.”

However, Prater, a Democrat, made it clear that the investigation is still ongoing. He indicated that his office may take the case to court at a later date.

In an interview with the Tulsa World, Prater said that additional information relevant to the case has been uncovered in recent months and investigators need time to incorporate that information into the case.

On the website, Prater was quoted as saying, “We’re not done. We’ve had information come to us over the last several months regarding one or more of the defendants that we need to follow up on before we take the case to preliminary hearing.”

One day before the charges were dismissed, the second quarter report from a legal defense fund established for Hofmeister was due at the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. The report shows that only one contributor gave money to the defense fund during the second quarter. The donor was identified as Steffie Corcoran, executive director of communications for the state Department of Education, which Hofmeister heads. Her $100 contribution brought total donations to $75,600.

Total expenditures from the fund so far amount to $66,571.71, records show. Of that, $42,571.71 was paid out in the second quarter to the law firm of Riggs Abney. Hofmeister’s ending defense fund balance was reported at $9,028.29.

On May 1, CIJ reported that just four individuals had donated a total of $75,500 to Hofmeister’s defense fund, and that the fund had paid $24,000 in legal fees and forwarded a balance of $51,500 to the second quarter. For a second report on May 1, CIJ spoke with individual donors to Hofmeister’s campaign to ask if they would donate to her defense fund.

None of the respondents were interested in supporting the defense fund. Most indicated that they would not support Hofmeister’s re-election campaign. Notably, longtime former state Superintendent Sandy Garrett, a Democrat, said that she considered the charges against Hofmeister to be “very serious” and would not contribute to the legal defense fund, nor would she give any future support to the incumbent’s 2018 campaign.

In March, CIJ reported that neither the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA)—the prominent Oklahoma teachers union implicated in the indictment—nor the Oklahoma State School Boards Association would donate to the defense fund. Further, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA)—also implicated in the indictment—Stand for Children, and American Fidelity did not respond to requests for comment. None has donated to the defense fund to date.

CIJ reported April 28 that American Fidelity was identified in the indictment as the source of $100,000 funneled through the OEA and CCOSA to the independent expenditure with which, the indictment claimed, Hofmeister’s campaign colluded.

Hofmeister has indicated that the legal cloud surrounding her won’t interfere with her plans to seek a second and final term (state officials are limited to two terms).

“I am grateful for the full dismissal of all charges. It actually is not a surprise to me because I expected that we would be able to be on this side of the charges,” she said in an interview with News Channel 4 in Oklahoma City. “I think, most of all, we came out with a statement from the beginning that we knew that this day would come. And so the fact that that day has come, with a full dismissal, is I think one way to show that I do have faith in the system.”

Since the charges were filed in November 2016, the Friends of Joy Hofmeister 2018 campaign has received two contributions of $100 each. They came from Melissa Abdo of Stand for Children in Tulsa and Janice Anderson, a retired bookkeeper in Broken Arrow. No contributions were reported for the second quarter.

Prior to the indictment, Hofmeister received $17,330 from 45 contributors during the third quarter reporting period of 2016. The Friends of Joy Hofmeister 2018 campaign reported a forwarded balance of $4,780.79 entering the third quarter of 2017.

Hofmeister was accused of illegally colluding with Oklahomans for Public School Excellence (OPSE) to win election in 2014. Such groups do not have to disclose their donor list. Prater’s office had alleged that OPSE colluded with Hofmeister to accept illegal excessive donations and illegal corporate donations.

Hofmeister herself faced two felony counts involving donations and two counts alleging conspiracy. Charged with her in the conspiracy counts were Fount Holland, Hofmeister’s chief campaign consultant, and Stephanie Dawn Milligan, identified as a political consultant for OPSE. Also indicted for collusion was Lela Odom, former executive director of the OEA, and Steven Crawford, former executive director for CCOSA. The two were accused of creating and funding OPSE.

Jay Chilton

Independent Journalist

Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.

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