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Utility refund case could be largest in Oklahoma

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An application before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission could result in the largest utility refund in the history of Oklahoma.

Several citizens filed the application, and they’re seeking a $16.1 billion refund from AT&T to customers who had Southwestern Bell telephone numbers from approximately 1987-1994.

This goes all the way back to 1986, when the feds lowered income tax rates for corporations.

Southwestern Bell, which provided phone service to Oklahomans, asked the state corporation commission if they could keep the extra $30 million that resulted from that rather than give it back to customers.

And, in 1989, the corporation commission voted two to one to allow the phone company to invest that money in their infrastructure.

But, in 1995, Commissioner Bob Hopkins was found guilty of accepting a bribe of $15,000 from the attorney for the phone company for his “yes” vote and sent to prison.

But, the vote still stood.

There is now a renewed effort to get that money back into the hands of Southwestern Bell customers.

“Very prominent citizens, who do not like graft and corruption, and they are asking on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated rate payers that justice be done now,” said attorney Russ Walker, who filed the application on behalf of the citizens.

Some of the applicants are retired Lieutenant General Richard Burpee, one time commander of Tinker Air Force Base, Bob  Ricks, current Edmond police chief and former special agent in charge of the FBI in Oklahoma and Sody Clements, a Nichols Hills city council member.

Former republican legislator Mike Reynolds has also joined the cause.

“One of the original judges in this case was bribed. He was convicted, went to prison. So, that case has no legal merit,” Reynolds said.  “Just because it takes 25 years is irrelevant when someone finally realizes this case shouldn’t stand.”

Experts for the plaintiffs have determined the 16.1 billion-dollar refund would amount to an average of about $17,000 for each Oklahoma telephone number from 1987-1994.

“They were involved in criminal activity, which has hurt a vast majority of the people in Oklahoma, at the time they did it,” Walker said.

The corporation commission is holding a public hearing on the matter next Tuesday.

They will also consider AT&T’s request to dismiss the application.

An AT&T spokesperson sent us this statement today:

"This discussion concerns an Oklahoma Corporation Commission order that was entered over 25 years ago. Since then, the commission and the Oklahoma Supreme Court have considered – and rejected – the same arguments on at least five occasions. In fact, the commission itself has repeatedly determined that the order served the best interests of consumers, including a unanimous decision in 2003. This is a closed issue.”

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