Prison Sex-Slave Operation Alleged

(AP) Authorities have charged a western Oklahoma sheriff with coercing and bribing female inmates so he could use them in a sex-slave operation run out of his jail.

Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess resigned Wednesday just as state prosecutors filed 35 felony charges against him, including 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy and five counts of bribery by a public official.

Burgess, the top officer in the county of 26,000 since 1994, appeared in court Wednesday was released after posting $50,000 bail.

"We are stunned," Undersheriff Kenneth Tidwell said Thursday.

Phone messages left Thursday afternoon at Burgess' home and with his attorney, Steve Huddleston, were not immediately returned.

Among other things, Burgess is accused of having sex with a female drug court participant who was in his custody. The crimes are to have occurred between October 2005 and April 2007.

A federal lawsuit filed in October claims Burgess told one drug court participant he would have her sent to prison if she didn't comply with his sexual demands.

The lawsuit, filed by 12 former inmates, alleges the sheriff's employees had them engage in wet T-shirt contests and offered cigarettes to those who would flash their breasts.

One prisoner alleged she became a jail trusty with more freedom after agreeing to perform a sex act on Burgess, but lost that status when she later refused.

Burgess also faces two counts each of sexual battery, rape by instrumentation and subornation of perjury, and one count each of engaging in a pattern of criminal offenses, indecent exposure and kidnapping.

He could be sentenced to 467 years in prison if convicted on all counts, special prosecutor James Boring said, though a lesser sentence would be more likely.

No one else from the sheriff's department appears to be implicated, Tidwell said.

"The circumstances are certainly regretful," he said.


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