State superintendent ready to “move forward” after campaign finance violation, conspiracy charges dropped

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The leader of the state's education agency says she's "grateful" and ready to "move forward" after felony charges against her and four others were dropped Tuesday afternoon.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled for later this month.

Oklahoma State Department of Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister spoke early Tuesday evening about the dismissed charges.

"I think, most of all, we came out with a statement from the beginning that we knew that this day would come. And so the fact that that day has come, with a full dismissal, is I think one way to show that I do have faith in the system," said Hofmeister when asked about any lingering feelings about the charges. "I am grateful for the full dismissal of all charges. It actually is not a surprise to me because I expected that we would be able to be on this side of the charges."

"But there's no ill will towards the (Oklahoma County) District Attorney (David Prater)?" I asked her.

"No," interjected Hofmeister's attorney, Gary Wood, after a long pause that resulted in laughter from the more than a dozen education department staff and relatives of Hofmeister flanking her during the press conference.

Hofmeister, who was elected in 2014, was charged with knowingly accepting contributions in excess of maximum amounts, knowingly accepting corporate campaign contributions and two counts of conspiracy to commit a felony last November.

Prosecutors claimed Hofmeister and four other powerful political operatives formed a dark money group to secretly accept large corporate donations in an effort to run a smear campaign in 2014 against then-superintendent Janet Barresi.

Along with Hofmeister, prosecutors charged Stephanie Dawn Milligan, Steven Crawford, Lela Odom and Fount Holland each with two counts of conspiracy to commit a felony. The charges against Hofmeister and the others were dismissed "pending further investigation" Tuesday.

"Have you spoken to the other four?" I asked Hofmeister.

"No," she replied.

Hofmeister says since the charges were filed, the amount of public "support has buoyed me."

"For nine months, I’ve had to conduct my life in the shadow of unjust and untrue accusations. But I knew the truth. I knew I was innocent," Hofmeister said.

"I have never wavered in my commitment to kids and I stand even stronger for them today. I knew I was innocent and I conducted myself appropriately and I’m happy that this day has come."

Despite the dismissal, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater tells NewsChannel 4 "the investigation is ongoing." Prater says he has "received additional information on one or more of the defendants in the case" and that the intent is to further investigate the case rather than moving forward with preliminary hearings.

As far as a statute of limitations, Prater says "re-filing is not an issue."