Bad blood between sheriff candidates boils over during debate

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Luke Sherman and Vic Regalado, seen here during a Tulsa Sheriff forum last year, were at odds Friday during a debate on radio station KFAQ.

I’m not sure how many of you got a chance to listen to KFAQ’s debate Friday between Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado and challenger Luke Sherman on Pat Campbell’s morning show, but it was quite a showdown.

Sidenote: If you didn’t get to listen to it, the show is available online hereIt’s a good listen.

The debate was nearly an hour long, and it was split into two parts. Campbell spent the first 30 minutes asking questions of the candidates, and they were mainly ones both men have been addressing on the campaign trail since last year.  It was during the second half of the segment, when Sherman and Regalado asked each other questions that the real fireworks kicked off. Campbell called it “high-stakes poker.”

In a live debate format, the questions are often precise (though less so when it’s one candidate asking them of another,) but the answers can get winding and confusing. So I’m going to focus on some of the more interesting tidbits from today and hopefully help sort out out some of the answers given.

Alleged straw donors

Sherman asked the first question of Regalado, saying the incumbent sheriff had first claimed to have personally met all of his donors, then later backtracked following the alleged straw donor controversy. Regalado replied that he never said he met all of his donors, and claimed that at the “democratic-slash-Luke press conference” that he said he met “with one individual” who had “spread the word that I’m the guy to go with.”

Facts:
This is a big issue, so when Sherman opened with this line of questioning, it really tipped the listeners off that they were in for a wild 30 minutes. Here’s the deal: Before the special election earlier this year, Regalado received somewhere around $40,000 (nearly a quarter of his overall fundraising during that period) from employees of a factory in Rogers County called ISTI.

Many of those individuals had never donated to a political campaign before and some were not registered to vote, records show. The ones who were registered to vote could not vote in the sheriff’s race anyway, since they were registered in another county.

luke sherman afThe allegation made by Sherman and John Fitzpatrick (who finished behind Regalado and Sherman in March, and has since aligned with Sherman) was that the money donated by those ISTI employees had been funneled into Regalado’s campaign by a wealthy company benefactor.

When those allegations were made, Regalado’s camp said it had vetted the donors. However, The Frontier discovered that one donor was a convicted felon, and Regalado ultimately returned his donation.

Did Regalado claim to have met all of his donors? I attended all of the sheriff candidate forums, and I don’t recall that statement. He did say that he had met with someone from ISTI who drummed up support for him. Regalado is Hispanic, as are many of the employees there who donated to him. This kind of encouragement to give to a candidate is not illegal.

However, the Tulsa World did report that anonymous sources in the state Attorney General’s Office have said the agency is looking into the donations. The AG’s office cannot comment on this publicly, however, as such a comment would be against state law.

Also, during this segment of Campbell’s interview, Regalado mentioned a “Democratic-slash-Luke” press conference, referring to a press conference called by the Democratic party in March, in which they again questioned Regalado’s donors.

I guess Regalado’s allegation was that the press conference had been called as a favor to Sherman, who did not attend and is a registered Republican. That seems to be a stretch, as Sherman had lost in the primary about a week earlier, and knew then he would not have been on the April 5 ballot.

 Where are the donors from?

Regalado questioned why Sherman had criticized Regalado’s donors from Tulsa County while accepting donations from out of state. Sherman replied that he wanted to focus on the Rogers County aspect, or as he put it “Rogers County residents, Rogers County ex-convict, Rogers County not-even-registered-to-vote.” He then said that some of the people who donated thousands of dollars to Regalado make “less than $50,000 a year.”

“We could get into percentages, I was a math major in high school,” Sherman said. “But it doesn’t add up.”

Facts: 

Sherman did receive five small out-of-state donations  and even received some from Rogers County  tracing back to the special election.

In total, he received two $100 donations from Colorado, a $75 donation from Kansas, a $250 donation from Chicago, and a $250 donation from a family member in Florida.

Sherman was wrong, I think, about being a math major in high school. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember having to declare a major until college.

Changes to the appraisal program.

Sherman asked Regalado why, in his 72 days in office, he had not made substantive changes to the sheriff’s appraisal program.

“Because last time I checked, Bob Bates’ daughter is still an appraiser. Clark Brewster, I believe his wife or sister, there’s family members that are still appraisers,” Sherman said.

Facts:

Under former Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s regime, appraiser work  a lucrative process of assessing value of foreclosed properties to be sold by the sheriff’s office  were patronage jobs he handed out to friends and donors, a process that’s not illegal, though it was met with much public outcry.

As Regalado said in his response to Sherman, Bates’ daughter, Leslie McCray, remains an appraiser, as do Deborah Brewster and Cassie Barkett, Brewster’s wife and daughter. (Brewster is an attorney who represented Bates in his criminal trial and defends the sheriff’s office in more than a dozen civil rights lawsuits.)

Vic Regalado speaks at a forum for Tulsa County sheriff candidates at Tulsa Community College on Thursday, March 10, 2016. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
Vic Regalado speaks at a forum for Tulsa County sheriff candidates at Tulsa Community College on Thursday, March 10, 2016. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

While Sherman is right that no concrete changes have been enforced, Regalado did make a series of announcements in May, saying that the 11 appraisers who exist now would be forced to re-apply for their jobs. He also said that anyone tied to campaign donations would be ineligible for the position. (That would include Brewster’s family members, as the attorney donated to Regalado.)

Regalado’s stance would be a significant change. Former TCSO Major Shannon Clark testified to the grand jury last year that Glanz not only took donations from those he had appointed as appraisers, he required the maximum $2,700.

‘Safe Oklahoma’ Grant

On Thursday, Regalado held a press conference to announce TCSO had received about $120,000 in grant funding from the state AG’s office. The funds would pay for a task force as well as purchase a year’s worth of access to crime-mapping software.

Sherman said Friday during the debate that Regalado previously claimed the award marks the first time TCSO had applied for that grant, but that the sheriff’s office had previously applied for and received that same grant under Glanz.

Regalado said in response that he was not aware that TCSO had previously applied for the grant, but if it had applied, the agency had not been awarded the grant money.

Facts:

A TCSO media release from May does include the quote attributed to Regalado that says: “This is the first time TCSO has applied for these grants.”

However, Sherman quoted from a Dec 11, 2013 Tulsa County purchasing department memo that states the county received $75,000 from the Safe Oklahoma Grant Program, the same grant Regalado announced in Thursday’s press conference.

The 2013 memo, sent to the media from Sherman’s camp, says nearly $70,000 of that award would be used for “overtime hours to target well-known hotspots for violent crime,” nearly identical to the purpose of the most recent Safe Oklahoma grant TCSO received.

The differences between the two are only the amount of money, as the newest grant is worth about $45,000 more, and the type of equipment purchased. The 2013 grant paid for audio equipment,

TCSO bought a year’s worth of access to “CrimeMapPro 6” software with the newest grant. That software is supposed to digitize the creating of crime “heat maps,” telling TCSO administration where to most efficiently distribute its deputies and task force.

Essentially the task forces have the same funding source and same goals, to police crime “hot spots” and make arrests.

Sherman’s past financial issues

In the final question of the debate, Regalado mentioned that Sherman had filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and filed for foreclosure in 2014. He also said that Sherman has previously stated that he made some mistakes and learned from them, however “2004 to 2014 is quite a big gap.”

“Why should the citizens of Tulsa County entrust millions of their hard-earned taxpayers money in your hands when you can’t even handle your personal finances,” Regalado asked.

Sherman responded by saying Regalado was “hitting below the belt.” He said the two (both sergeants within the Tulsa Police Department when the campaign first started) had talked early on about staying friends and “staying above board” during the election process.

Facts:

Sherman did file bankruptcy in 2004, and entered into the foreclosure process in 2013. Sherman fired back at Regalado’s question, saying that the sheriff was wrong in saying that his home had been foreclosed on.

Regalado didn’t specifically say Sherman had been foreclosed on; he said Sherman had “filed for foreclosure.” That is still technically incorrect, because it was Sherman’s lender that actually filed for foreclosure against him.

Nevertheless, Regalado was correct that Sherman has faced financial problems both in the distant and recent past, and if elected would be tasked with managing a budget of about $40 million.

The interaction between the two candidates was more interesting because it demonstrated for the first time really how much their relationship had deteriorated, and just how much dirt the two unearthed about each other.

Regalado said that he and Sherman had a “handshake” deal not to go negative, but the sheriff said he quickly found out Sherman’s camp was “spreading some pretty vile rumors about me.”

Sherman said Regalado’s camp, in response, had spread rumors that Sherman had filed for bankruptcy “four times.”

How far have the two sides gone to background check the other? Regalado said Sherman was right, that he hadn’t been foreclosed on. Instead, Regalado said, the TPD sergeant had sold his house “for $30,000 less.”

“You took an Obama bailout on it, and the taxpayers are going to suffer from it.”

Records show the plaintiff in the foreclosure proceeding (Mortgage Clearing Corporation) vacated its judgment against Sherman in 2014 after Sherman “qualified for a government sponsored loss mitigation program to cure the delinquency.”

Sherman later said he sold the house, using the difference as income on “an amended tax return,” what’s commonly known as a “short sale.”

Takeaways from the debate:

I tried to focus on the bits that I found most interesting, but there was a lot to digest in that hour.

The most important thing to take away from it is that there is definite bad blood between the two candidates. And the two sides seem to be getting desperate leading up to Tuesday’s vote.

Sherman’s camp flubbed a commercial and Regalado hastily paid for and filmed his own commercial in response, loaning himself $24,000 at the last minute. In the commercial, Regalado brings up Sherman’s five-day 2009 suspension for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Sherman was suspended after an officer he supervised attended a party and crashed a car while leaving the party. However, the city ultimately sided with Sherman, awarding him back pay for the five days he missed.

So there appears to be increasing tension between the two candidates, and it probably won’t end any time soon. If neither candidate receives 50.1 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the two will be headed to the runoff election Aug. 23.

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