published Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Sooner Tea Party co-founder convicted of blackmail

  • photo
    Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart is pictured Tuesday in the courtroom as he waits for his trial to begin following a break for lunch in Oklahoma City.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

OKLAHOMA CITY — A jury has convicted the co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party on felony blackmail and computer crimes charges, but recommended that pay a $1,000 fine and not serve any prison time.

Jurors found 55-year-old Al Gerhart guilty of the charges Wednesday following a three-day trial in Oklahoma County District Court. District Judge Ray Elliott scheduled formal sentencing for July 22.

Charges were filed in April 2013 after Gerhart sent an email that prosecutors say was intended to intimidate Republican Sen. Cliff Branan, of Oklahoma City. Branan says he felt threatened by the email.

The email concerned a bill Branan's committee didn't hear. It demanded that Branan hear the measure, "or I will make sure you regret not doing it."

Defense attorneys said Gerhart was merely exercising his free speech rights.

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