Oakar to plead guilty to offenses

By Katherine Rizzo Associated Press Published:

Oakar, a Democratic member of Congress for 16 years, was one of the casualties of the political uproar that ensued following revelations that lawmakers could make unlimited penalty-free overdrafts at their own in-house bank.

Her hundreds of checks drawn on insufficient funds made Oakar vulnerable in the 1992 election, which she lost, and drew the attention of federal investigators.

Taking advantage of the House bank's free overdrafts was not illegal, but close scrutiny of how accounts were handled tipped investigators to the possibility of other kinds of impropriety and opened the investigation that led to a 1995 grand jury indicting Oakar on seven felony counts.

Successful pretrial motions and a Supreme Court ruling in an unrelated case helped knock out two of those five counts, and the government agreed to settle the rest without going to trial.

Oakar agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and a campaign law violation. She also agreed to pay a fine of $32,000 _ double the $16,000 in improperly reported contributions that were at issue in the case.

Some of the misreported contributions masked violations of the $1,000-per-person legal donation limit, and some gave the illusion that outside donors, rather than Oakar, had contributed to the struggling campaign.

The misdemeanors carry maximum penalties of two years' imprisonment, but under the agreement signed Monday by the Justice Department, Oakar will ask for probation.

Her lawyers issued a statement saying "Ms. Oakar accepts responsibility for these misdemeanor violations and sincerely regrets the impact they have had on her family, her supporters and public record."

Oakar, 57, was one of many political casualties of the bank scandal.

The House Sergeant at Arms used to run the bank, providing checking accounts and other banking services. By custom, it covered overdrafts, no matter what size, and never charged penalties.

Oakar was among lawmakers with particularly high numbers of overdrafts; at one point she'd written 213 checks that surpassed her following month's paycheck.

Those overdrafts contributed to her defeat at the polls in 1992 and drew the attention of the special prosecutor brought in to go over all the bank's transactions.

In other cases that sprang from examinations of the House bank, a special Justice Department task force obtained a guilty verdict against former Rep. Donald Lukens, R-Ohio, and guilty pleas from former congressmen Carroll Hubbard Jr. and Carl Perkins, both of Kentucky; Perkins' secretary; Hubbard's wife; the wife of a former New York congressman; former House Sergeant At Arms Jack Russ; former nonvoting congressional Delegate Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia; and a nephew of Oakar.

A second Oakar nephew charged with conspiracy will have to submit to possible Federal Election Commission action as part of an agreement to settle the criminal charge against him.

As for the House bank, it was closed in 1991.

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