OKLAHOMA CITY-The co-founder of Oklahoma's only state-subsidized tire shredding company, Safe Tire Disposal Corp., pleaded guilty in October to charges he illegally padded the campaign funds of two gubernatorial candidates in the state's 1990 election. Harold H. Holden, of Ardmore, pleaded guilty in Oklahoma County District Court to 16 misdemeanor counts of donating corporate money to the campaign funds of both Gov. David Walters, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, Bill Price.
Oklahoma's Campaign Compliance and Ethical Standards Act forbids corporate contributions to campaign funds.
But Mr. Holden said the incident ``does not, in any way, involve'' the Safe Tire recycling operation, which has shredded nearly 10 million tires in Oklahoma since January 1990.
A 1991 company document states Mr. Holden is ``chairman of the board and chief executive officer'' of Safe Tire and ``owns 50 percent of Safe Tire.'' But during an interview with TIRE BUSINESS, he said he was not affiliated with the company other than having helped his son, H. Scott Holden-who also owns a 50-percent stake-start the firm. Mr. Holden also is CEO of Holden Energy Corp., a large independent energy company.
Mr. Holden's guilty plea came near the end of an 18-month, multi-county grand jury investigation resulting in the indictment of 20 individuals, calls for sweeping campaign reforms and a recommendation that current Gov. Walters face impeachment proceedings.
For his own involvement, Mr. Holden was ordered to pay $16,000 to a court fund, $4,000 to the state's Victim's Compensation Assessment plus court costs, and was placed on two years' deferred probation for making a total of $32,000 in illegal donations.
Eight of the indictments to which Mr. Holden pleaded guilty stated he ``caused'' Safe Tire Disposal to transfer money to people with the intent it be donated to one of the two campaign funds, but Mr. Holden said in the recent interview ``there was no involvement of Safe Tire at all.''
Mr. Holden transferred $16,000 from Safe Tire to three of his employees, including Eugene Embry, general manager of Safe Tire of Oklahoma, who later contributed the money into the campaign funds of the opposing candidates just prior to the 1990 gubernatorial elections, according to Oklahoma Supreme Court records.
``I would do the same thing again,'' Mr. Holden said, explaining he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges to end a ``witch hunt'' against Gov. Walters. ``I did absolutely nothing wrong.''
Concerns initially were raised that some of the money used in the Safe Tire donations was provided to the company by the state through the Oklahoma Waste Tire Recycling Act of 1989, which has given more than $7 million to the firm for its recycling efforts.
The Daily Oklahoman, a newspaper that covered the campaign investigation, ``tried to imply because of the tire management program in Oklahoma, that I influenced Gov. Walters,'' Mr. Holden said. ``That was proven that it didn't happen.''
Safe Tire records showed the company used the recycling act subsidy in compliance with all laws, according to a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), the agency charged with administering the tire shredding program.
``The bottom line on all this is that there is no connection between the program and the people involved in'' the illegal campaign donations, the spokesman said. ``It was coincidental. (Mr.) Holden could have owned anything.''
Safe Tire is an Ardmore-based firm operating scrap tire recycling facilities in Oklahoma and Texas.
Under the waste tire management program, ODEQ provides partial reimbursements for collecting and shredding costs to companies in the program. Currently, Safe Tire is the sole participant.
Mr. Embry, who manages Safe Tire's shredding facility in Choctaw, said he is confident the election controversy would have no affect on the operation.
``It's just a political football; it had nothing to do with us,'' Mr. Embry said. No charges were filed against Mr. Embry or his wife, both of whom allegedly donated money to the campaign funds, according to court records.
The controversy came at a time when the firm-which has produced about 40,000 tons of tire-derived fuel since 1990-showed signs of growth, Mr. Embry said.