Sheriff Embroiled in Inmate Sex Scandal

An Okla. sheriff is accused of offering leniency in exchange for sexual favors.

April 18, 2008— -- A yearlong investigation by prosecutors and law enforcement agents in Oklahoma has resulted in nearly three dozen felony charges against a county sheriff who could face up to 467 years in jail if convicted.

Michael Burgess, sheriff in Custer County, Okla., since 1994, surrendered to state law enforcement agents Wednesday and appeared in district court to face 35 felony charges, including multiple counts of rape, forcible oral sodomy, bribery by a public official and perjury.

The charges were announced by James Boring, a district attorney in Texas County, Okla., who took control of the Burgess investigation in May 2007 after prosecutors in Custer County cited a conflict of interest in the case and the state attorney general requested Boring's involvement.

Information presented in court documents filed in Custer County District Court Wednesday signed by Boring and an agent for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation lay out a pattern of alleged criminal behavior from 2005 to 2007. Burgess allegedly used his power as sheriff repeatedly to pressure a female employee, inmates and members of his county's drug court program to pleasure him in exchange for special treatment.

Burgess offered his official resignation Wednesday, effective immediately. He was released on $50,000 bond under the condition that he has no direct or indirect contact with any of the prosecution's 33 witnesses.

Attempts by ABC News to speak to Burgess' attorney Steve Huddleston were unsuccessful, but Huddleston told The Associated Press that his client is "anxious to go to court and clear his name."

The documents paint a predatory profile of a sheriff who authorities say would force inmates under his supervision to perform oral, vaginal and anal sex in his office, his official sheriff's vehicle, local motels and hotels, a truck stop, and houses belonging to inmates and friends.

The four women named in the court documents who were either inmates or members of the county's drug program all were promised some type of leniency or preferential treatment in return for their sexual favors.

The alleged sexual liaisons took place between February 2006 and April 2007, according to court documents. One of the women even traveled with the sheriff to Oklahoma City in April 2006 to take part in a "legislative" initiative relating to drug court programs across the state.

"During the night of their stay at the Biltmore Hotel, Sheriff [Burgess] directed and required that [the woman] stay with him at the hotel rather than go with other participants and their counselor for dinner," according to the probable cause affidavit for the sheriff's arrest. "Sheriff [Burgess] took [the woman] to his room at the Biltmore Hotel where he engaged in multiple acts of sexual intercourse with [the woman] during the night."

On May 21, 2007, however, that same woman failed a drug test that was required as part of her release from jail.

"When she failed the drug screen, she disclosed that she had been having sex with Sheriff [Burgess] and that he had promised her that he would protect her and keep her from going back to jail," the documents stated.

In the hours after the woman told of her sexual history with the sheriff, authorities say Burgess contacted the woman's cousin — a female who was also part of the drug court program — and asked her to remove any DNA evidence, such as a condom, from the woman's house that might incriminate him. Burgess allegedly promised to have her bother released from jail in exchange for helping cover up the sexual tryst.

It was the statement by the woman who failed the drug test that triggered the state's involvement.

Another allegation involves a former sheriff's office employee who accused Burgess of inappropriately touching her at a restaurant, in a courtroom and while she tried on her sheriff's office uniform.

A federal lawsuit was filed in October after Boring's investigation began. In the suit, 12 former inmates alleged that the sheriff's employees had them engage in wet T-shirt contests and offered cigarettes to women who exposed their breasts.

Burgess, a former police officer and state government investigator, was appointed sheriff in 1994 when his predecessor died. He was elected to the position in 1996 and re-elected in 2000 and 2004.

Burgess is married and a grandfather to eight children, according to a biography posted on the Custer County Sheriff's Office official Web site. His listed hobbies include hunting and playing golf.

"Sheriff Burgess always has time to talk with his constituents," the former sheriff's bio reads, "and would like to invite them to 'come set a spell' and drink a cup of coffee with him."

The daily population at Custer County Detention and Law Enforcement Center is about 80 inmates, according the sheriff's office Web site. The sheriff oversaw a staff that included an undersheriff, 10 deputies, 11 jailors, seven dispatchers and an administrative assistant.

Custer is a rural county in the western part of Oklahoma with a population of about 25,000 residents.