TULSA — One prosecution witness admitted to changing his story two times and finally seeing “the light” and “telling the truth.” His attorney brokered an immunity deal with federal investigators.

Another witness could not account for inconsistencies betweeen purchase order dates and his testimony.

These were just two of the points defense attorney Kevin Adams focused on as the final slate of prosecution witnesses took the stand Wednesday in former County Commissioner Randy Baldridge’s federal indictment trail.

Plagued by discrepancies in accounts by witnesses and able to link Baldridge to the money trail only through circumstantial evidence and the testimony of admitted coconspirators, federal prosecutors rested Wednesday.

The defense begins its case today.

Current District 3 employee and former road foreman Bruce Long finished his testimony on cross-examination Wednesday morning. Long is involved in two of the government’s claims that Baldridge conspired to defraud the county of funds.



THE DOG CREEK PROJECT

Long had indicated in testimony on Tuesday that he had performed work on the right of way of Dog Creek Road as an independent contractor while on comp (vacation) time from his regular duties for the county, claiming Baldridge had offered the job as a bonus.

According to Long, “after” the work was performed, Baldridge told him to bill the job through another contractor in order to avoid raising a “red flag” in the county clerk’s office.

During cross-examination on Wednesday, Baldridge’s defense brought out evidence that a county purchase order dated July 26, 2004, naming Long’s friend Brad Jones as the contractor for the Dog Creek job was in place.

According to earlier testimony from County Clerk Peggy Armstrong, a purchase order must be filled out prior to or the day work begins for the county.

In this case, the purchase order listing Jones’ name for the “dozer work” at Dog Creek Road was dated the day the work began.

According to the invoice, the Dog Creek Road project was ongoing from July 26 to July 30, 2004.

Long did admit asking Jones to accept and cash the county warrant (check) for payment on the job. The existence of this purchase order contradicts Long’s testimony that he asked for Jones’s help only “after” doing the work.

“Isn’t it true that you told the jury yesterday that you only contacted Brad Jones when it came time for you to be paid?” Adams asked Long.

“Yes.”

“Well how do you explain Brad Jones’ name appearing on this purchase order dated July 26, 2004, ... before the invoice was signed which was dated July 30, 2004?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how those purchase orders are filled out. I don’t do that part,” Long said. “I don’t know how that part of the job works.”

“You told Randy Baldridge that you had found somebody [to do the Dog Creek job]. Had found Brad Jones?” asked Adams.

“No, no sir,” said Long.

“Why did you give Brad Jones money?” asked Adams.

“For helping me,” answered Long.

“Were you taking advantage of your friend?” asked Adams.

“Yes,” said Long.

In later testimony, then receiving clerk Barney Howard said that Long had instructed Howard on the information for the July 26, 2004, purchase order for the Dog Creek project, and that Long had given him Jones’s name and address.

Adams also brought out that Long had filed to run against Baldridge in the commissioner’s race in June of 2006. Long claimed his wife and her friends had talked him into running for commissioner, and that he wished he had not run.



PAVING A PRIVATE DRIVE

Long also admitted to approaching Bellco Foreman Cary Bunker about paving the Portiss driveway in connection with the Ray Davis Road project, and that he gave Bunker $200. Long insisted Baldridge had instructed him to give Bunker the money, but admitted that neither Bunker nor Jones had spoken to Baldridge.

“You did all the work. You’re taking all the risks. You’re telling us you kept none of the money?” asked Adams regarding the Portiss job.

“At that point I didn’t want any of the money,” answered Long.

Howard, County Commissioner Mike Helm, and former Commissioner Gerry Payne testified about the practices and procedures for submitting and approving purchase orders.

The director of the Port of Catoosa, Bob Portiss took the stand Wednesday afternoon, testifying that Randy Baldridge had called him to alert him that Ray Davis Road where he lives was going to be asphalted. According to Portiss, he asked Baldridge at that time how much it would cost to pave his private driveway while the crew was out there. Baldridge had called back and told him it would be done for $3,000. Portiss did not ask who would do the job but had no intentions of the county paying for the work or material or that anyone would benefit from it.

“That would be great,” Portiss said he told Baldridge. “Have the contractor do it.”

Portiss said he received an invoice either through the mail or directly from Baldridge and that his wife had written a check to Brad Jones, the contractor listed on the invoice, for the work.

Wilson questioned whether it was Baldridge who had told Portiss to pay Jones.

“He’s (Baldridge) the only one I dealt with on this transaction,” said Portiss.

Portiss authenticated the canceled check, signed by Lynda Portiss and made out to Brad Jones on September 20, 2005. Portiss further testified that he avoids all partisan politics and never contributes to campaigns because he must work with whoever gets elected.

Bellco Project Manager Michael Shore testified about the bidding process for county work. This competitive process allows the county to contract for large amounts of work at a lower cost than a private individual would pay for paving a driveway. According to Shore,

Bellco makes it a policy never to do private driveways at the same time as county roads due to problems in controlling the amounts of asphalt for each project and other difficulties.

“Our policy is that it’s too much of a hassle to do private drives while we’re working for the county,” said Shore. “It’s not a good policy to mix the two, it’s too hard to control amount of asphalt, where it goes. Our equipment is too big for many drives.”

Shore said that based on his measurements of Ray Davis Road and the Portiss driveway, 33% of the job billed to the county would have been the private drive with the county paying an additional $3,900 for the drive. According to Shore, normally such a drive would cost between $7-8,000 at individual rates. Bellco receives payment from the county through the mail, said Shore.

During the cross examination, Adams brought out that the purchase order based on Bellco estimates of total job cost for the Ray Davis Road project had allowed for up to 480 tons of asphalt and labor at a cost of $12,960 to the county. Following completion of the job, the county was billed for 435.65 tons of asphalt, which was less than the original asphalt. Shore admitted that he had no actual knowledge that part of the asphalt billed to the county was used on the Portiss drive.

Bellco Foreman Cary Bunker testified that Long had instructed him to do the Portiss drive and asked for an estimate for it and the drive across the street. Bunker claimed there had been no conversation between himself and Long about receiving money on the side for doing the job. According to Bunker a few days after the job, Long caught up with him at another location and gave him $200.

“I assumed it was a tip or hush money,” said Bunker.

Adams questioned Bunker about his dealings with Long on the project. Bunker confirmed that Long had told him to do the drive, had shown him which one it was and had given him the money. Bunker confirmed that he had never spoken to Baldridge. Under cross-examination, Bunker admitted that his wife, Cheryl, works in billing at Bellco.



COUNTY BRIDGE WORK

Testimony was also heard from unindicted co-conspirator Joseph Bentz and his wife Lisa, who now reside in Texas.

The prosecution attempted to prove Bentz was paid for work he did not perform (concrete work on a county bridge) with county money acquired through falsified documents. Bentz allegedly then shared the money with Baldridge.

According to Lisa Bentz, Baldridge and friend Brian Slover visited the couple at their home in Texas sometime in late March.

Mrs. Bentz testified the two arrived at her home sometime between 1 and 4 p.m. on a Saturday after she had returned from her daughter’s rowing practice and after her husband’s classes he was attending at a nearby learning institution.

She recalled that she and Slover had a conversation on one side of the living room while her husband and Baldridge spoke on the other side.

“I only heard a little bit of the conversation (in) which Randy Baldridge was showing my husband some documents I didn’t see and said they had to keep their stories straight,” Mrs. Bentz told the jury.

Mr. Bentz had a different story.

He was “positive” Baldridge and Slover arrived at their home after midnight on a Friday and that Slover did stay in the living room to speak with Mrs. Bentz while he and Baldridge exited the home to the garage to “play pool and drink a couple of beers.”

“I’m sure it was after midnight on Friday,” Bentz said on cross-examination. “I didn’t stay up too late with Mr. Baldridge because I had class at 8 o’clock the next morning.”

According to Bentz, he and Baldridge had been friends for approximately 10 to 15 years.

Bentz told U.S. Assistant District Attorney Joseph Wilson that he admitted to FBI Special Agent Dan Risner last summer that he in fact had not performed concrete work on a county bridge for which he had been paid $1,700.

According to Bentz, he had fallen behind in his finances and also owed taxes to Rogers County for a triplex he owned. At the time the $1,700 invoice was made, Bentz was commuting back and forth between Oklahoma and Texas, where his wife had moved, maintaining his job at American Airlines.

“I was spending $500 to $600 every week on gas alone in travel and I was pretty much broke,” Bentz said. “So Mr. Baldridge would collect the rent from the tenants at my triplex and if they were late in paying, he would loan me the rent money until it was paid by the people who live there.

“I also borrowed money from time to time from Mr. Baldridge and he kept track of how much I owed him.”

Bentz added that he did not read the invoice before he signed it, saying, “I just looked at the amount and signed it. If I would have read it, I would have corrected my name because I don’t go by Joe Bentz and would have asked Mr. Baldridge about it.”

But on cross-examination, Bentz told Adams his story changed twice before he finally admitted no work had been done.

“At first I told (Risner) that I did the work because that’s the story Mr. Baldridge and I had talked about,” he said. “There was a conversation between myself and Mr. Baldridge that the story was that I did do the concrete work and as long as we kept our story together, (the investigation) would go away.”

The two stories Bentz told Risner came out in cross examination with Bentz stating he first contacted a lawyer, who attended the meeting with Risner and Wilson sometime in June 2006. During the meeting, Bentz said he told Risner he did the concrete work.

“But (Risner) told me he knew I hadn’t done the work,” Bentz said. Adams then asked if Bentz had changed his story again to state he had hauled off debris from around the bridge at county roads 453 and 52 and that “you told Risner you had performed $1,700 worth of work at that bridge even if it wasn’t concrete work.” To that Bentz answered yes.

“It wasn’t until after Agent Risner told me how serious this was and that I could be indicted that I finally told him the truth that I hadn’t done any of the work,” Bentz told the jury.

In explaining what happened to most of the $1,700 that he received from the county, Bentz stated he was in Texas when the check was mailed to him and that he asked if Baldridge could pick it up for him at the County Clerk’s office.

“So he did and I asked him if he would deposit it into my account at RCB,” Bentz said. “He did and I then called one of my friends of 20 plus years who works there to make out a cashier’s check to Mr. Baldridge for $700 because he had loaned me that money and I owed him.

“I also asked her to make out a cashier’s check to the treasurer’s office to pay my taxes.”

Bentz’s agreement with the government concerning his testimony is different than the other conspirators who have a verbal agreement.

“I understand that I have a verbal agreement with the government that if I testify truthfully I won’t be prosecuted,” he said.

When asked by Adams if he had a written agreement, Bentz answered no, only to change his answer after being shown a written agreement he had signed between himself and the government.

“Oh yeah. I had forgotten that I signed this agreement,” Bentz said.

“Well doesn’t that guarantee your statements won’t be used against you?”

“Can I read over it real quick? I guess that’s what it means. Yeah. My attorney must have negotiated this with Mr. Wilson while I was telling Agent Risner the truth.”

Testimony from the defense is expected to begin today and at some point, Baldridge is expected to take the stand.