OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The office of Oklahoma’s new attorney general confirmed Monday that it will take on two separate criminal investigations into alleged misuse of public funds at state agencies, including the tourism department’s contract with a grill restaurant.
A criminal investigation into the barbecue deal involving the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and a separate corruption investigation at the Commissioners of the Land Office are being transferred from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office to Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office.
Former Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation last year to investigate both matters. An OSBI spokesman confirmed Monday that both investigations are ongoing. The broadcast of the investigation was first reported by online news organization The Frontier.
“This case involves allegations of fraud involving millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money,” Drummond said of the investigation into a multimillion-dollar deal between the Department of Tourism and Swadley’s Bar-BQ to renovate and rebrand restaurants as state parks. “The Attorney General’s Office is the appropriate place to determine whether findings merit prosecution and, if so, to prosecute any wrongdoers. One of my top priorities in this agency is to end the culture of corruption and scandal.”
A state regulatory agency told state lawmakers last year that under the contract, the state agreed to subsidize the restaurant’s financial losses, which ultimately cost the state $2.1 million, and $1.34 million in restaurant management fees to pay dollars. In addition, the restaurant company acted as the general contractor overseeing the construction and charged government management and consultancy fees on virtually every bill, ranging from 5% to as much as 35%.
Swadley’s Bar-BQ officials have denied wrongdoing.
In the investigation against the Commissioners of the Land Office, the Tulsa World newspaper reported that the CLO’s secretary, Elliot Chambers, fired the agency’s internal auditor after questioning him about his personal investment relationship with Victorum Capital, which the CLO considered to be… an investment advisor was paid. Chambers later resigned.
Both the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation and the Land Office commissioners were headed by officers selected by Governor Kevin Stitt. Drummond, a Republican, defeated Stitt’s handpicked Attorney General John O’Connor in a GOP primary last year.
“Governor Stitt fully supports the continuation of this investigation, which he has called for to ensure taxpayer protection and looks forward to the continued impartiality of the investigation to uphold the rule of law and shed light on corruption in the state government,” Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said in a statement.
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