Typos in the original article have been corrected.
OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma County District Attorney has sent a letter to the State Auditor requesting a forensic audit into allegations about a contract between Swadley’s Bar-B-Q restaurant and the State Department of Tourism and Recreation.
“I want to shine a light on any kind of corruption or anything that’s going on in state government,” said Governor Kevin Stitt at a press conference on Monday. “We will absolutely hold any vendor accountable.”
Governor Kevin Stitt said he would “absolutely” call for an investigation into the alleged questionable dealings, but it looks like he won’t have to make that call.
That’s because District Attorney David Prater already has.
In a new letter from Prater to State Auditor Cindy Byrd, obtained by KFOR, the DA said, “The alleged conduct has resulted in at least $4,500,000. in excessive payments to Swadley’s by the State of Oklahoma. I have concluded that a criminal investigation should be conducted.”
That’s an allegation the OSBI confirmed agents are looking into, at the request of DA Prater.
In a new bombshell report, The Oklahoman said the state has paid Swadley’s $17 million to renovate and run Foggy Bottom Kitchens in select state parks.
A whistleblower, speaking anonymously to the paper, said he worked for the restaurant chain for decades. He said Swadley’s owners and top tourism officials had a secret meeting months before “requests for quotes had gone out to more than a dozen companies.”
Swadley’s was the only business to respond.
The Oklahoman reported Swadley’s then overcharged the state thousands of dollars for commercial smokers, all while charging extra management and consulting fees.
The whistleblower said Swadley’s owner suggested “we have our vendors bill us an additional 30% on the invoice we supply the OTRD and request a ‘rebate’ back form the vendor.”
After crunching the numbers, the report said taxpayers paid for more than half a million dollars in surcharges.
The State Auditor’s office provided KFOR with the following statement:
“The State Auditor’s Office takes all whistleblower complaints very seriously. Per the Open Records Act, we protect any information shared through our fraud hotline. The State Auditor’s Office does not have statutory authority to open an investigation without a request from a designated official. All tips are pursued in a reasonable and timely manner as pending projects are completed.”
However, the request from DA Prater now makes an investigation by the State Auditor and Inspector mandatory.
While speaking at a news conference, Governor Kevin Stitt said he wants to crack down on corrupt vendors while questioning the timing of the allegations.
“If there’s a vendor out there or there’s a contract that this contract or this vendor is not performing correctly or overcharging the state, we will find that out. We will terminate that. We will sue that vendor and we will get the taxpayer’s money back,” said the Governor. “We’ll find out if there’s a bad vendor, but at the same time, it’s kind of peculiar that all this stuff happens on election year.”
Governor Stitt also added Oklahoma State Parks are “becoming top ten.”
“We have we’re doing a fantastic job of redoing the bathrooms in those state parks and in and getting tourism dollars up in the state,” he said.
KFOR reached out to the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation for comment and they replied with the following:
“Over the last two years, the Department has invested heavily in updating the state park system after decades of deferred maintenance due to underfunding including the planning and installation of more than 100 new bathroom and shower units, the modernization of RV sites across the system, and critical infrastructure improvements.
We respect the Legislature’s important agency oversight role and look forward to working together to continue improving the state park system. Due to ongoing internal and external investigations, the Department cannot comment further at this time.”David White, ODTR Director of Public Information and Government Affairs