After Pleading Guilty to Child Sex Trafficking, Former Oklahoma Senator Sentenced to 15 Years
By Nolan Clay
Former state Sen. Ralph Shortey was sentenced Monday to federal prison after he tearfully apologized in court for "leading a double life of sin for the past few years."
A judge ordered Shortey to serve 15 years in prison for a sexual tryst with a teenage boy at a Moore hotel early March 9, 2017.
"I have begged God's forgiveness, and I hope that this all is another example to everyone to live a true life and to be what you say you are," Shortey said at his sentencing in Oklahoma City federal court.
Shortey, 36, pleaded guilty in November to child sex trafficking and faced up to life in prison.
U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti imposed far less time than prosecutors had sought but more time than Shortey requested.
"I believe, based on Mr. Shortey's tragic background, the judge did the right thing and showed him some leniency," defense attorney Ed Blau said.
Shortey will be on supervised release for 10 years after he gets out of prison and must pay $5,100 in special assessments. He also must register as a sex offender.
How much victim restitution, if any, will be determined later.
The victim told the FBI they had smoked marijuana, undressed and just started fooling around at the Super 8 in Moore when police officers knocked on the hotel door.
The victim was then 17.
The age of consent for sex in Oklahoma is 16. Shortey was indicted, though, for child trafficking because it is illegal under federal law to affect interstate commerce by soliciting anyone under the age of 18 for commercial sex.
Shortey ran afoul of the federal law because he offered in a Kik message to pay the teenager for "sexual stuff" and then took him to a hotel.
Shortey, an Oklahoma City Republican, first won election in 2010 as a "family values" conservative. He resigned in disgrace on March 22, 2017.
A further investigation discovered he had been using fake names for at least five years to send and receive child pornography. He also had used pseudonyms to go online on Craigslist to seek casual encounters with males, the "younger the better."
"We can be guy friends to everyone else but privately we have fun maybe even boyfriend type stuff," he wrote in a 2012 Craigslist ad. "I've always wanted something like that. This could even be a daddy son type of thing behind closed doors.
"Discretion is a must," he also wrote. "Very open minded!"
Shortey was married to his high school sweetheart at the time. She divorced him this year.
During his lengthy apology Monday, Shortey paused and began crying as he talked about his ex-wife and their four daughters.
"I've left them with nothing but pain, destruction and insecurity in their future," he told the judge. "I'm ashamed beyond understanding for what I have done to them."
He vowed to spend the rest of his life repairing that damage and working to leave something for them.
He also apologized to the victim, who was not in court. Assistant U.S. Attorney K. McKenzie Anderson said the teenager has nightmares, worries Shortey will someday come after him and feels like an outcast.
Shortey and the victim had met for sex before, at Shortey's coffee shop. The two first met in February 2016 through a Craigslist ad. The victim was then 16.
The prosecutor told the judge there were other victims, including two boys who sent Shortey sex videos in 2012. One boy, who was 17 at the time, sent six such videos of himself after Shortey emailed him commercial pornography, according to the FBI.
"This investigation reinforces the message that the victimization of children will not be tolerated by law enforcement," said Kathryn Peterson, the FBI special agent in charge of the Oklahoma City office.
The judge Monday dismissed three child pornography counts against Shortey. Prosecutors asked for the dismissal pursuant to a plea agreement.
Revealed during the sentencing was that Shortey endured a "hellish" childhood that included physical abuse, sexual abuse and exposure to pornography.
Shortey never knew his father, his mother abused drugs and he lived in poverty for a time on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. He had to have extensive surgery when he was 3 after an older brother shot him in the leg by accident.
After moving to Oklahoma, he was bullied in school because of a stutter and his weight.
"It's tragic because my client overcame so much from his childhood to become a business owner and to become a state senator. And those demons that followed him from his past led to the self-destructive behavior," his attorney, Blau, told news reporters.
The defense attorney has complained that Shortey was selectively prosecuted in federal court "for spectacle" due to his elected position. Shortey initially was charged with prostitution offenses in Cleveland County District Court.
"If he'd been prosecuted in state court, he would have gotten far less than 15 years," Blau said Monday after the sentencing. "Given the magnitude of cases that you normally see in federal court, this was far below what's normal."
The case attracted national attention because of the circumstances and because Shortey was one of President Donald Trump's earliest supporters in the state.
Former state Sen. Ralph Shortey asked Monday for 10 years in federal prison, the minimum the judge could give him under the law for child sex trafficking.
Prosecutors asked for a punishment within federal guidelines, which are intended to promote uniform sentences across the country. Under the facts of Shortey's case, the guidelines called for around 24 to 30 years in prison.
(c)2018 The Oklahoman