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Corporation Commissioners vote on $16 billion AT&T refund for customers

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OKLAHOMA CITY - There were some tense moments at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission meeting Thursday morning.

It all centers around a potential $16 billion refund for AT&T customers.

A group of prominent citizens filed an application with the Corporation Commission, claiming that money is due to customers who had Southwestern Bell telephone numbers in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

The application stems from a Corporation Commission decision back in 1989 that let Southwestern Bell reinvest extra money after the feds lowered income tax rates for corporations.

The decision let them reinvest an extra $30 million in the network in Oklahoma rather than give it back to customers.

But, in 1995, Commissioner Bob Hopkins was found guilty of accepting a bribe of $15,000 from the attorney for the phone company in exchange for his vote to let Southwestern Bell reinvest the money.

"I'm not saying Southwestern Bell's conduct here was as bad as Enron, Tyco International, Bernie Madoff or WorldCom,"  Andrew Waldron, an attorney for the applicants seeking payment, told NewsChannel 4 in November. "It was worse. I'm here telling you that, if Southwestern Bell's fraud and corruption had run any deeper, it would take a donkey ride to get to the bottom of it."

On Thursday, the commissioners were looking at an issue that would possibly let them reopen the case.

“We have a constitutional duty to do something. There is bribery and corruption,” said Commissioner Bob Anthony.

Anthony wanted the commission to vote that bribery is “repugnant” to the state constitution.

“I think it’s real clear, but I think it would give an opportunity for this case to start moving forward if we would just make that finding,” Anthony said.

But, the other two commissioners refused to comply.

“I cast my vote on these motions when I, during my oath, when I swore an oath to this office. And, so, I don’t find these motions to be appropriate, don’t plan to participate,” said Commissioner Todd Hiett.

“I don’t support these motions at this time because I’ve already indicated I think we have other motions pending and I think those are the ones we need to address first,” said Commissioner Dana Murphy.

Two of the applicants asking for the large AT&T refund said, when Murphy and Hiett would not vote for the motion, they took that as an acceptance of bribery.

“I’m stunned that two members of the commission said they couldn’t decide whether bribery was good or bad,” said Sody Clements, a Nichols Hills city council member.

“I cannot believe that elected officials think bribery is okay in Oklahoma,” said retired Lieutenant General Richard Burpee, one time commander of Tinker Air Force Base.

Anthony also seemed to be frustrated that nothing could be decided.

“When I’m saying we’re needing to do our duty, it’s not for us. It’s for the public. And, it’s for the people that depend on this agency for justice,” Anthony said.

Both Hiett and Murphy tell us they do not condone bribery.

The commissioners also discussed the possibility of bringing in outside counsel to help them decide some issues on this case.

An AT&T spokesperson sent us this statement:

"It’s disappointing that Commissioner Anthony continues to dredge up closed issues from a quarter century ago.  This concerns a 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. We are confident the Commission will agree that they do not have jurisdiction to re-open this case and remain bound by previous rulings of the Supreme Court."

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