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Oklahoma Department of Ed audit: $2,600 for booze at one party

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As we find out more about this, I’m going to post some excerpts from the audit here on the Education Station blog. Here’s the executive summary of the report:

We performed a special audit/investigation, pursuant to a request by the Department of Education (OSDE), in accordance with the requirements of 74 O.S. 2001, § 227.8. The concerns we investigated included concerns related to travel claims filed by a now former OSDE official. We have previously issued a report related to those concerns.

During our investigation of the circumstances surrounding the official’s travel claims, we obtained records from a hotel which included a check on an account that, although not an authorized account of the State of Oklahoma, listed an address of 2500 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, the address of the Oliver Hodge State Office Building where OSDE is located.

We began an inquiry to determine who or what entity was using a bank account listing the address of a State Office building. Through our inquiry we identified three accounts being managed by OSDE employees that were not official accounts for the State of Oklahoma.

Over a period of years OSDE employees have been soliciting and receiving donations and/or receiving funds for booth space rental at various conferences then depositing those funds in accounts purporting to be accounts belonging to a private nonprofit organization.

The Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission (OCIC), is a non-profit organization whose board members were aware that OSDE officials were managing one account, an operating account, but were not aware OSDE officials had opened and were operating two other accounts under the OCIC name. From interviews with OSDE officials and employees, as well as records we obtained, it appeared not only were the OCIC board members unaware of the accounts, but some of the OSDE officials may have deliberately concealed those accounts from the OCIC board of directors.

These off-book and unauthorized accounts allowed OSDE officials to pay, at a single event, $2,600 for 85 bottles of wine and 3 kegs of beer and $5,700 for food items including a “chocolate fountain,” “Maryland crab cakes,” “mini beef wellingtons,” and “smoked salmon mousse in a puff pastry,” without following any of the requirements normally associated with government expenditures.

Later, as the accounts were being separated, OSDE employees orchestrated the movement of $14,899 from one “OCIC” account to another “OCIC” account. Then arranged for another third party entity, the Oklahoma Director’s of Special Services, to create another third party account and moved the money to that newly created account.

The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector (OSAI) is the independent financial oversight body responsible for auditing the books and financial records of OSDE. These accounts were not audited by the OSAI because the existence of the accounts had never been disclosed to OSAI. The accounts were not official accounts for the State of Oklahoma and would not have appeared on any official listing of the OSDE accounts.

A “slush fund” is typically regarded as an unregulated fund that has little if any oversight and which can be used with little or no accountability. The accounts we identified appear to have been operated as slush fund accounts allowing OSDE officials to issue payments shielded from governmental oversight as well as public scrutiny.

Over a period of 10 years, in excess of $2.3 million has been expended from these accounts.

The Oklahoma State Auditor is responsible for investigating irregularities in governmental agencies and routinely performs financial investigations into questionable matters concerning the operations of state and local governments. However, the Oklahoma State Auditor lacks the authority to perform special or investigative audits unless requested to do so by other statutorily defined offices.

We have reported the results of our limited inquiry into these accounts, identified additional concerns related to the accounts, as well as the actions and activities of the state employees involved with the accounts.

Keep in mind: this audit was done for July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2011. Sandy Garrett was the superintendent until Janet Barressi took over Jan. 10, 2011.


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Carrie Coppernoll

Carrie Coppernoll is a columnist and reporter. She was named the top personal columnist in Oklahoma in 2009 and 2010 by the Associated Press and Association of Newspaper Editors. She was also named the 2008 Journalist of the Year by the Oklahoma... Read more ›