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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Oklahoma AG announces investigation into loss of taxpayer dollars involving possible ODT fraud

By Kim Jarrett | The Center Square - Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is working with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation on the probe into the loss of taxpayer dollars involving the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation and Swadley’s Bar-B-Q.

A report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency showed overspending by Swadley's Bar-B-Q, which was contracted in 2020 to operate restaurants at state parks.

"Nearly $6 million in expenses were related to construction costs, management fees, and reimbursements," according to the report. "OTRD also covered more than $2 million in operational losses for the contracted restaurant vendor. Recent expenditures on several restaurants located within state parks exceed Parks' estimate of the restaurant's replacement value multiple times."

Drummond said in a news release that he spoke with Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna, who directed the OSBI to disclose the investigation to the attorney general.

"The Office of Attorney General is the appropriate entity to determine if the findings merit prosecution and, if they do, to prosecute any wrongdoers," Drummond said in a statement. "One of my top priorities in this office is to end the culture of corruption and scandal. Oklahomans deserve true accountability in government.”

The state ended its contract with Swadley's in April 2022. The restaurant company received $16.7 million to operate restaurants at the state parks.

OTRD Executive Director Jerry Winchester resigned in April.

Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, introduced legislation that increases oversight of the OTRD.

Thompson's bill would restore the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission and give it the authority to hire and fire the executive director and establish their salary. That authority currently rests with the governor. Lawmakers will consider the bill when they begin the 2023 legislative session on Feb. 6.

This is the second investigation Drummond has taken over from the Oklahoma County District Attorney. Earlier this month, Drummond announced he would take the lead in the prosecution against the founders of Epic Charter Schools.

Ben Harris, David Chaney and Josh Brock are charged with embezzlement of state funds, racketeering, obtaining money by false pretense, conspiracy to commit a felony, violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act, submitting false documents to the state and unlawful proceeds.-

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