OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A special investigative committee says it has served its first subpoenas related to a controversial vendor agreement with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
Last month, a report by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency was raising eyebrows about a four-month investigation into significant expenditure growth by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
The report focused on lawmaker concerns regarding a contract with Swadley’s Bar-B-Q restaurants.
Officials say the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has paid $13 million to Swadley’s Bar-B-Q restaurants to renovate and run the Foggy Bottom Kitchens in certain Oklahoma state parks.
After the cost of the contract was brought to light, several lawmakers and state officials have expressed concerns.
Recently, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department announced that it was canceling the lease concession agreement with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen.
According to the statement, the department said it was canceling the contract due to “suspected fraudulent activity and questionable business practices.”
The department said it started an internal investigation in the fall of 2021 after “reports of financial irregularities were brought to our attention.”
Officials say financial payments for construction costs were stopped in September, and management fees were suspended in December.
“After extensive review, it has become clear the continuation of the agreement with Foggy Bottom Kitchen is not in the best interest of Oklahoma taxpayers. While the transition won’t be easy, our first duty is to safeguard taxpayer funds,” the department said in a statement.
On April 28, House Speaker Charles McCall formed a special House committee to investigate potential misuse of taxpayer funds through vendor agreements with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
“We have zero tolerance for abuse of tax dollars,” McCall said. “Law enforcement’s job is determining if laws were broken, This committee’s job is determining if laws need to change to protect against future abuses of resources by state agencies. The committee will pursue the truthful answers needed for the Legislature to perform our oversight and policymaking duties in a manner that does not interfere with the active law enforcement investigations.”
On Thursday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives Special Investigative Committee issued and served its first subpoenas in the investigation.
The committee is compelling Steven Harpe, the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, to testify before the committee.
The subpoena states that Harpe will need to provide records regarding state purchasing directors and budget policy for the tourism department.
Also, he will provide all records concerning the contract between the tourism department and Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen.
The committee also served a subpoena to Mike Jackson, the director of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency.
Jackson is being asked to provide all “communications, files, documents, and records, including but not limited to phone messages, emails, SMS or other electronic messages, call logs, and social media communications, from any and all communications accounts either owned by the state or by yourself or a third party, regarding the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen, LLC.”
“Basic facts and finances are the focus of the committee’s first meeting. A refresher on LOFT’s findings and testimony from the executive budget agency about its observations will lay the foundation for the committee to begin digging deeper. Full cooperation from the subpoenaed parties is expected and appreciated,” said Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, chairman of the House Special Investigative Committee.
Governor Kevin Stitt released the following statement after the committee was formed:
“I have called for more audits than any other governor in state history and welcome the Legislature joining me to protect the taxpayers and shine a light on any kind of corruption or bad actors involved in state government. The state does business with more than 4,600 companies and I welcome a review of each one to provide maximum transparency for Oklahomans.”GOVERNOR KEVIN STITT