Levi Gonzalez and his wife don’t live in Tulsa County and can’t vote for Vic Regalado in Tuesday’s election for sheriff.
But records show they each gave Regalado’s campaign $2,500 on Feb. 12.
On the same day, six other people who work at the same industrial construction company with Gonzalez — ISTI Plant Services — also gave Regalado’s campaign between $2,500 and $2,700, the maximum contribution allowed. Their spouses, all but one listing her occupation as homemaker, gave matching amounts.
Three days later, another employee at ISTI and a woman who lives with him in Rogers County gave Regalado’s campaign $2,700 each. The employee, 25-year-old Justin Gonzalez, has felony drug and firearm convictions as well as a misdemeanor conviction of eluding police in Rogers County.
Justin Gonzalez was unable to pay court fines and costs in both Tulsa and Rogers counties in 2013, resulting in his tax return being intercepted, records show.
Altogether, eight employees of ISTI Plant Services and six spouses contributed $34,350 to Regalado’s campaign, with nearly all of that donated on Feb. 12, records show. That figure accounts for almost 25 percent of the $147,000 that individuals have contributed to Regalado’s campaign since October, records show.
Regalado also raised $7,000 from political action committees, including $1,000 from an Oklahoma City committee whose name does not turn up on the state’s registry of political action committees.
Regalado, a Tulsa Police Department sergeant, is one of nine Republican candidates vying to replace former Sheriff Stanley Glanz. The primary election is Tuesday and the winner faces Democrat Rex Berry April 5.
ISTI’s plant at the Port of Catoosa has 800 employees and provides “turnkey mechanical general contractor services for oil, natural gas and petrochemical facilities,” according to its website.
An attorney for the company’s president, Santiago Barraza, could not be reached for comment by The Frontier for this story. Barraza and his wife each donated $2,700 to Regalado’s campaign.
Though his name is spelled Barazza on the campaign report, it did not turn up in voter registration records under that spelling and is spelled Barraza on property records.
Barraza is linked to a limited liability company that recently bought former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor’s palatial home on Columbia Place valued at $6.8 million, records show.
Two of Regalado’s opponents, Luke Sherman and John Fitzpatrick, have raised questions about the grouped donations to his campaign. A blog that tracks local politics, Batesline, also questioned the donations in a posting this week.
“What really has me puzzled is why so many people from one company, with no apparent political interest in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, would dig deep into their savings to support a candidate,” states the article, by Michael Bates.
In a text message to The Frontier Friday, Regalado’s campaign manager, Aaron Brewer, stated: “We accept and report these contributions in full compliance with the Ethics rules, and we are thankful for such broad support.
“Anonymous accusations from opposing campaigns are not worthy of comment, much less newsprint. Our campaign is honored to have received a wide range of support from law enforcement, business leaders, and average Tulsans, from throughout the county and the Tulsa region.”
The Frontier requested to review financial documentation of the donations in question — such as cancelled checks or credit card receipts — with the understanding that the records would not be published. Regalado rejected that request, saying he would not release personal information on his donors beyond what is required by law.
The Frontier also asked for additional information on the Oklahoma City PAC, ECM, which gave Regalado a $5,000 contribution on Jan. 22. The organization is not registered as a political action committee with the state Ethics Commission.
Regalado’s form states ECM provides engineering and environmental guidance.
Coordinated giving not illegal
There’s nothing illegal about employees of the same company giving donations on the same day. In fact, it’s a common practice for groups of supporters to give on the same date during fundraisers for a candidate.
But it would violate state ethics laws for someone to funnel money through straw donors to evade contribution limits.
In an interview with The Frontier, Levi Gonzalez said he did not attend a fundraiser for Regalado.
“We do a lot of business in Tulsa, so we try to follow closely who is jumping on the ballot,” he said. “Usually we get together and say, ‘This is who we are liking.’”
Asked how the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office impacts the plant based at the Port of Catoosa,
Gonzalez said the office “doesn’t really impact our business.”
“Just knowing that in my opinion that we want to help the community, we are showing that we support” Regalado, he said.
“A couple of those names are Gonzalez and one of them is my brother. … As a family we like to stay united.”
Records show his brother, Justin Gonzalez, has multiple convictions on his record in Tulsa and Rogers counties. He pled guilty in 2011 to possession of drugs with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony.
Justin Gonzalez was sentenced to a six-year suspended sentence and is on probation. He and another donor, Jessica Bledsoe, list the same Rogers County address and are listed as donating $2,700 to Regalado’s campaign. Justin also donated $500 to State Senator Brian Crain in his 2014 race for Tulsa County district attorney, records show.
In 2013, the state intercepted a joint tax return filed by Justin Gonzalez and Bledsoe to deduct $548 in overdue court costs owed by Gonzalez.
The Frontier was unable to reach Justin Gonzalez for comment prior to publication of this story.
In a statement earlier this week, Regalado said: “I would welcome any questions or scrutiny of my donations and donors. The donations were made by meeting with everyone I could often leading to 16-hour days. Raising campaign donations takes hard work and persistence.”
When The Frontier made Regalado aware of Justin Gonzalez’s background Saturday, he decided to return the contribution.
“After weeks of negative campaigning and dirt digging, my opponents couldn’t find anything on me so they started going after my donors,” he said in a statement released by his campaign. “I was unaware of this particular donor’s history, but now that I know the details I will be refunding this contribution.”
The Frontier uncovered Gonzalez’s background as part of a review of contributions by ISTI employees.
Two candidates running against him for the office say they have questions about the number of donors who gave the maximum to Regalado’s campaign.
“Maxed out contributions are unusual in this kind of race,” said Luke Sherman, also a Tulsa Police Department sergeant.
John Fitzpatrick said the contributions raise questions about why residents of Rogers County who can’t vote in the election would contribute to Regalado’s campaign.
“It just looks like somebody is purchasing the Sheriff’s Office,” said Fitzpatrick, a businessman and TPD reserve officer.
Fitzpatrick has raised questions about the influence of one of Regalado’s main supporters, T. Hastings Siegfried, vice chairman of Nordam Inc. and a Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy.
Siegfried and his wife gave a combined $5,000 on Oct. 23 to Regalado. Altogether, six members of the Siegfried family gave Regalado a combined $9,000.
Hastings Siegfried was referenced in the recently released transcripts from a grand jury investigation into the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office that resulted in criminal charges against Glanz. Many of the allegations in the grand jury petition against Glanz revolved around undue influence of a wealthy reserve deputy, Bob Bates.
Bates fatally shot an unarmed man, Eric Harris, during a gun sting April 2, 2015 and was charged with second-degree manslaughter. A 2009 internal affairs review showed that Bates did not have the required training but supervisors who expressed concerns were transferred or silenced by Glanz’s administrators.
Former TCSO Maj. Shannon Clark told the grand jury that, while sheriff’s office administrators were taking squad cars away from some ranking members of the agency, an unused patrol car was parked outside of Siegfried’s home for months while he was out of the country on business.
The group of ISTI employees and their spouses aren’t typical of donors who give maximum contributions to candidates in state or local races. Seven of the donors have never donated to any campaign in Oklahoma and the names of four in the group do not turn up in voter registration records.
However, it isn’t the first time a group of ISTI employees enthusiastically supported a candidate for Tulsa County office by making large donations all on the same day.
Records show coordinated donations occurred in 2014, when a group of ISTI employees all donated a combined $36,000 to former state Senator Brian Crain’s race for Tulsa County district attorney in 2014. Nearly all of those donations occurred the same day, March 6, 2014.
Donors to Crain included Barraza and several of the same ISTI employees on Regalado’s list.
Crain dropped out of the race after learning he was ineligible due to a vote he took that raised the salaries of district attorneys.
Several of Regalado’s donors live in homes valued between $70,000 and $150,000, according to county property records, meaning their contributions equal between 3 and 7 percent of the value of their homes.
Barraza, 50, has given large contributions to candidates for local and state races, records show. Those include $5,000 to Crain and $5,000 to a candidate in an Oklahoma City senate race, immigration attorney Michael Brooks-Jiminez.
Since October 2013, Barraza and 18 of his employees have donated more than $62,000 to candidates for state offices, mainly Crain and Brooks-Jimenez, records show.