- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A former Oklahoma House leader accused of paying for travel expenses from his campaign account and getting reimbursed by the state for the same expenses was charged with 44 felony counts Friday in Oklahoma County District Court.

Prosecutors filed charges of making false claims against the state, perjury and embezzlement against Gus Blackwell, 60, a Republican from Laverne who represented the Panhandle in the state House for 12 years before being term-limited in 2014.

Investigators obtained search warrants for Blackwell’s personal and campaign bank account records and determined he didn’t reimburse the campaign account with the mileage reimbursements paid by the state, District Attorney Investigator Gary Eastridge wrote in an affidavit of probable cause.

“Additionally Blackwell wrote checks to himself from the campaign account for travel expenses he had not personally incurred,” Eastridge wrote.

He was charged with 32 counts of embezzlement, four counts of making a false claim against the state, and eight counts of perjury.

The perjury counts are connected to campaign reports Blackwell filed that prosecutors say conflicted with his bank balances. A civil case against Blackwell also was filed in district court by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, the agency that enforces state campaign rules.

Blackwell didn’t immediately return a phone message left on Friday.

His attorney, Stephen Jones, said Blackwell cooperated fully with investigators and plans to fight the charges.

“He’ll enter pleas of not guilty,” Jones said.

Blackwell was the former speaker pro tem, the No. 2 leader in the Oklahoma House and served as chairman of several standing committees during his six terms. He was in line to become speaker of the House in 2008, but dropped out of the running after it was reported he paid his property tax late for 13 years.

He most recently was named director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, a group that represents state prison workers.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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