OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Another new chapter in the controversy surrounding the contract between the State Tourism Department and Swadley’s Bar-B-Q is unfolding.
New reports, uncovered by the Frontier, reveal that Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell signed off on about $16.7 million worth of expenses for the Foggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants in Oklahoma state parks.
“We need to probably speak to the Lieutenant Governor sooner rather than later,” said Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, the chair of the Special House Committee investigating the ordeal.
During a press conference on April 29, 2022, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Pinnell would take a more hands-on role in the state’s tourism operations.
This came as the governor also announced Jerry Winchester, the director of the State Department of Tourism, resigned.
However, as the Frontier found out, it appears Pinnell has arguably already been very involved during his time as the Secretary of Tourism.
“Back in 2019, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed an executive order that required all Cabinet secretaries to sign off on expenses over $25,000 of the agency they’re over,” said Reese Gorman, a state politics reporter at the Frontier.
Recalling this order prompted Gorman to request the public documents detailing Pinnell’s involvement with Swadley’s.
The documents revealed the Lt. Governor’s signature is on payment approvals for millions of dollars made out to the restaurant.
“All $16.7 million of the expenses paid to Foggy Bottom, he signed off on,” said Gorman.
Emails between Pinnell and the Tourism Department’s Finance Director, Katherine Nichols, show one purchase, totaling more than one million dollars, was approved without him ever seeing the bill.
“I think that’s very problematic,” said Rep. Martinez. “I know for me, I don’t put my signature on anything without reading it and asking questions.”
The records also show Pinnell signed off on a more than $2 million payment to reimburse Swadley’s for its “Fiscal Year 2021 Deficit Coverage.”
This revelation is raising a long list of questions for the Special House Committee.
“What his process is in approving any type of invoice, how to review those and make sure that there’s a thorough process happening,” said Rep. Martinez. “At first glance, it doesn’t seem too thorough to me.”
KFOR reached out to Pinnell’s office for comment. A spokesperson for his office sent the following:
There are prior levels of accountability and approval that must occur before these invoices hit the Lt. Governor’s desk, and at the time of the invoice in question, the Lt. Governor had full faith in the agency director and trusted the information had been properly vetted.Mariah Carter, Communications Coordinator