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Watchdog group files lawsuit against state officials regarding Tar Creek Superfund site

PICHER, Okla. – A watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against two Oklahoma leaders regarding corruption at a Superfund site.

On Monday, the group ‘Campaign for Accountability’ announced that it had filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Oklahoma County against Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.

CfA alleges that Hunter and Jones failed to release copies of audits and documents related to corruption allegations associated with the management of the Tar Creek Reclamation site in the state.

The Tar Creek Superfund site is one of the most polluted areas on the planet. The water in Tar Creek water runs red with poisonous lead. The chat piles, man-made mountains of toxic bedrock, loom. The land surface is at risk of collapsing into cavernous mine structures below.

It has been a decade since the federal government first declared the area uninhabitable. The towns of Picher and Cardin were both abandoned by their residents.

“It’s the largest Superfund site in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Scott Thompson told News 4 in October.

In 2011, then Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt requested an audit into suspected unlawful contracting practices by the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Trust at the Superfund site. Pruitt later declined to file charges and ordered it not to be released.

“While he was serving as the Attorney General of Oklahoma, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declined to bring criminal charges in response to an audit that found evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the Tar Creek Reclamation site.  Why did he refuse to bring charges? We don’t know because the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has repeatedly refused to release documents related to this audit,”  CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said.

 

 

Read the complaint here.

 

In 2015, the auditor’s office asked Pruitt to authorize the release of the LICRAT audit under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

Pruitt denied the request stating, “Our office is concerned about publication of unsubstantiated criminal allegations against private citizens.” The auditor’s office disputed Mr. Pruitt’s rationale, stating that they were not aware of “any unsubstantiated claims” and that “the individuals named in the report are members of a public trust or a contractor whose services were retained as part of this substantive project.”

On Nov. 9, CfA made an Open Records request of the auditor’s office for the records. In response, the auditor explained that he wanted to release the records, but had been instructed not to do so by the AG’s office. CfA filed a request for the records directly with the AG’s office, which denied the request.

In the past, organizations have been forced to take the agency and Pruitt to court over Open Records Act requests.

So far, neither the state auditor nor the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office have commented on the lawsuit.