Even though he believes Rep. Terry O’Donnell “violated the law,” Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond today dismissed all charges against an influential legislator who ran a bill changing the law and legalizing his wife’s ability to inherit her mother’s state-appointed tag agency.
Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) and his wife, Teresa, were indicted in December 2021 by an Oklahoma County grand jury. The convened body of citizens heard days of testimony from 27 witnesses and voted to indict Terry O’Donnell on eight criminal counts and Teresa O’Donnell on four of them.
The counts included conspiracy, violation of a law regulating official conduct as a legislator, perjury, and obtaining a thing of value greater than $15,000 by false pretense.
Terry O’Donnell pushed legislation in 2018 and directly authored the 2019 bill that, in combination, allowed his wife’s mother — Catoosa’s long-time tag agent — to name her daughter, Teresa, as a state motor license agent shortly before she died. During the same 2019 session, O’Donnell clashed over the state’s opioid litigation with then-Attorney General Mike Hunter. It was ultimately Hunter who asked then-Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to investigate O’Donnell’s tag agent legislation because Hunter said he had a conflict.
Despite saying he believes Prater investigated the case independently without Hunter’s involvement, Drummond told NonDoc on Thursday that Hunter’s beef with O’Donnell became his justification to dismiss the charges.
“I think he violated the law, but I think because he was targeted, I am not going to tolerate the prosecution of a legislator who has the audacity to hold accountable the attorney general. That’s just wrong,” Drummond said. “He was targeted for what I believe is loosely a common practice at the Capitol. The letter (I wrote O’Donnell today) admonishes him and says that you did wrong, but it didn’t rise to the level of a felony, nor do I feel the need to prosecute.”
Prater: ‘This was an important indictment’
Drummond said his office did not announce the O’Donnell dismissal with a press release because “frankly, it’s an elected official’s status.”
“You may consider it newsworthy, I just consider it an appropriate action of my office. We’ve looked at the facts, and we’ve declined to prosecute,” Drummond said. “I’m not suggesting that Mr. Hunter influenced David Prater. I’m not suggesting that at all.”
Drummond then incorrectly described a series of events regarding the O’Donnell investigation’s timeline.
“I’m suggesting that Hunter targeted O’Donnell and made him the subject of a multi-county grand jury, and then (subsequent Attorney General John) O’Connor passed it off to Prater based on the conflicts of interest, and Prater did his prosecutorial thing,” Drummond said.
But it was actually Hunter who had asked Prater to take on the case, which Prater did first in front of the state multi-county grand jury, which is based in the Attorney General’s Office. After Hunter resigned abruptly in May 2021 — two months after the MCGJ’s presiding judge resigned amid a sex scandal — Prater said staff in the AG’s office declined to allow him to call additional witnesses in front of the multi-county grand jury. Prater subsequently convened his own Oklahoma County grand jury, read testimony from the MCGJ into evidence, and called several additional witnesses — including House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) — before the Oklahoma County grand jury issued its indictments of the O’Donnells.
Reminded that it was Hunter, not O’Connor, who had asked Prater to handle the matter, Drummond clarified himself.
“I’m out of order on that,” Drummond said. “Hunter passed it off to Prater, you’re right.”
Prater, who left office after not running for reelection in November, took issue with Drummond’s decision and defended his own actions in the case, which Drummond took over from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office in February under statutory authority granted to the attorney general.
“The O’Donnell investigation was completely independent of any outside influence, and an independent Oklahoma County grand jury indicted Rep. O’Donnell for the felony he committed,” Prater said. “This was an important indictment because it held an elected official responsible for wrongdoing that occurred due to the power that that legislator had to pass legislation to benefit himself and his family.”
Despite dismissing the charges, Drummond said he believes O’Donnell “violated the law.”
“Terry’s guilty,” Drummond said. “He was targeted.”
An attorney himself, O’Donnell did not respond to a text message seeking comment prior to the publication of this article. Hunter also did not respond to a text message seeking comment.
Drummond’s chief of staff: ‘No reason to do him any favors’
O’Donnell’s charges had loomed over his legislative tenure for nearly a year and a half, initially causing him to resign his leadership post as House speaker pro tempore, the second highest-ranking position in the House. One of McCall’s closest friends in the Legislature and his former roommate at an OKC apartment during session, O’Donnell rejoined House Republican leadership this year as majority whip, a position that involves coordinating the teams of legislators that whip vote counts ahead of key bills.
McCall was one of the final witnesses called before the grand jury that indicted O’Donnell, and another member of legislative leadership and Gov. Kevin Stitt said O’Donnell’s 2019 tag agent bill was articulated as a House “priority” during annual negotiations.
Underscoring that allegation, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) allowed O’Donnell’s 2019 tag agent bill to be heard and passed, even though he personally voted against it and had removed the operative language from a prior bill in 2018.
“I am from Catoosa, Oklahoma. I was aware of who [Terry O’Donnell’s] mother in law was,” Treat said of the bill, referencing a high-profile robbery, murder and prison escape that made national headlines.
One of McCall’s other close friends is Trebor Worthen, a long-time political consultant for the House speaker. Drummond made Worthen his chief of staff at the Attorney General’s Office after Worthen helped Drummond win election in 2022.
Worthen said Thursday that he never worked on any of O’Donnell’s campaigns, although he does know him personally.
“He was never a client of mine. I never worked for Terry O’Donnell, and while we have a collegial relationship, I certainly have no reason to do him any favors,” Worthen said. “Charles McCall was a client, and I consider him to be a great friend, but he wasn’t involved in this. You know? This didn’t have to do with Charles McCall.”
Asked about McCall’s testimony before the grand jury that indicted O’Donnell, Worthen said “I’m not aware of that,” even though it is listed on the indictment document.
“He’s not a party to this matter,” Worthen said.
Hunter, McCall, O’Donnell and the fate of SB 984
Despite Worthen’s statements, McCall and other members of House leadership were parties to the drama and unusual circumstances surrounding a separate piece of significant legislation that O’Donnell filed in 2021 and ultimately passed into law last year.
SB 984 established transparency requirements and contingency fee caps on state legal contracts, and O’Donnell ran the measure partially out of his frustration with the lucrative contract that Hunter had signed with influential attorneys Michael Burrage and Reggie Whitten for assistance with Oklahoma’s opioid lawsuits. Burrage and Whitten ultimately made tens of millions of dollars in contingency fees related to the cases and settlements, which O’Donnell and Drummond have both criticized.
With O’Donnell’s SB 984 awaiting a hearing in a House committee in 2021, McCall said Hunter asked his office to delay the measure. In spring 2022, Prater received an allegation that Hunter had made some sort of threat to McCall that O’Donnell could be prosecuted. The person — who also told NonDoc that McCall and O’Donnell had each articulated this to them — said Hunter’s comments resulted in the decision not to advance SB 984 in 2021.
Less than a week after the publication of an April 2022 story outlining that allegation, O’Donnell’s SB 984 appeared on a House committee agenda, advanced and ultimately became law last session.
“Regarding the former attorney general requesting of the speaker of the House that the bill be killed or else Terry O’Donnell would be indicted, I was told that it had occurred,” Prater said in April 2022. “I have not been able to confirm it even after receiving a statement from the speaker of the House’s office.”
Prater said McCall “expressly denied that it had occurred.”
Drummond referenced SB 984 on Thursday.
“Effectively, based on our investigation, it appears as though O’Donnell was targeted by Hunter because he had the audacity of promoting legislation that would restrict the attorney general’s ability to issue noncompetitive bids to friends and family without caps on attorney fees,” Drummond said.
Munson: ‘The decision by the AG is disappointing’
Drummond wrote a letter to O’Donnell on Thursday alerting him to the decision to dismiss charges:
I have concluded that former Attorney General Mike Hunter referred you for investigation not in the interest of serving justice, but for the purpose of political retribution. It was no secret then, and it is well established now, that the former attorney general had ample motive to target you. He concealed this motive from the District Attorney’s Office, resulting in a series of events that culminated in criminal indictments.
This is not to say that I find you blameless or endorse your conduct. I question your judgment in authoring legislation that resulted in a benefit for your family. Your decisions contributed significantly to the consequences you have endured. However, it appears that [Article 5, Section 24 of the Oklahoma Constitution] has not been aggressively or equally enforced. The fact that you were singularly referred for prosecution guides my decision to dismiss the charges against you. In doing so, I make clear that this law, and all others, will be fairly and fully enforced in the future against all members of the Legislature.
House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson (D-OKC) expressed disappointment with Drummond’s decision.
“The AG seems to suggest [O’Donnell] has broken the law, but is choosing not to press charges. I’m not sure what his goal is there, but the decision by the AG is disappointing — anyone who breaks the law should be held accountable, regardless of political position,” Munson said. “Oklahomans do not want corruption ruling the day at the State Capitol when there is so much at stake right now — our schools are underfunded, we have a severe teacher shortage, and we can’t recruit companies that offer higher wage jobs because of partisan extremism. We need leaders who are solely focused on their constituents, not how they can pass legislation for personal financial gain.”
In his interview with NonDoc on Thursday afternoon, Drummond emphasized his belief that, “but for Mike Hunter’s interference and targeting, Terry O’Donnell would never have been charged.”
“If I do anything like that, I hope the successor AG dismisses any action,” Drummond said. “If I’m going to exploit my office because you’ve irritated me or crossed me, that’s just not appropriate. There’s too much power vested in the Attorney General’s Office to have an AG exploit it, and I’m not going to tolerate it. That’s the basis.”
(Correction: This article was updated at 9:30 a.m. Friday, April 7, to correct reference to the date of Mike Hunter’s resignation. NonDoc regrets the error.)