New Oklahoma AG Takes Over Probe of Agency’s Barbecue Deal
Associated Press - January 24, 2023 5:12 pm
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The office of Oklahoma’s new attorney general confirmed Monday that it will take over two separate criminal investigations into alleged misuse of public funds at state agencies, including the tourism department’s contract with a barbecue restaurant.
A criminal probe into the barbecue deal involving the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and a separate corruption investigation at the Commissioners of the Land Office will be transferred from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office to the office of Attorney General Gentner Drummond.
Former Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into both matters last year. An OSBI spokesperson confirmed Monday that both investigations are ongoing. The transfer of the investigations was first reported by the online news organization The Frontier.
“This case includes allegations of fraud involving millions of dollars in taxpayer funds,” Drummond said about the investigation into a multimillion-dollar contract between the Tourism Department and Swadley’s Bar-B-Q to renovate and rebrand restaurants at state parks. “The Office of Attorney General is the appropriate entity to determine if the findings merit prosecution and, if they do, to prosecute any wrongdoers. One of my top priorities in this office is to end the culture of corruption and scandal.”
A state watchdog agency told state lawmakers last year that under the contract, the state agreed to subsidize the restaurant’s financial losses, which ultimately cost the state $2.1 million, and pay the restaurant management fees of $1.34 million. In addition, the restaurant company served as the general contractor overseeing the construction and charged the state management and consulting fees on virtually every invoice that ranged from 5% to as much as 35%.
Officials with Swadley’s Bar-B-Q have denied wrongdoing.
In the investigation into the Commissioners of the Land Office, the Tulsa World newspaper reported that the CLO’S secretary, Elliot Chambers, fired the agency’s internal auditor after she questioned him about his personal investment relationship with Victorum Capital, which was being paid by the CLO as a consultant on investments. Chambers later resigned.
Both the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and the Commissioners of the Land Office were headed by officials selected by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Drummond, a Republican, defeated Stitt’s handpicked Attorney General John O’Connor in a GOP primary last year.
“Governor Stitt fully supports the continuation of these investigations he called for to ensure taxpayers are protected and looks forward to the continued impartiality of the investigations to uphold the rule of law and shine a light on corruption in state government,” Stitt spokesperson Carly Atchison said in a statement.