OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Department of Tourism and Recreation is currently locked in a legal battle over the state parks’ Foggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants and alleged misspending of taxpayer dollars by the restaurant group.
Through an Open Records request, KFOR has obtained an audit of state credit cards used by tourism employees in the years prior showing a pattern of misspending and bending of agency rules.
It’s been almost a year since the Foggy Bottom Kitchen scandal began.
The State of Oklahoma has accused Swadley’s, which operated the restaurants at state parks, of swindling millions of taxpayer dollars from the state.
Swadley’s denies those accusations and is counter-suing the state.
A newly-obtained, 50-page audit points to a history of questionable financial transactions inside the Department of Tourism long before the legal battle with Swadley’s.
State auditors examined department’s credit card transactions from the beginning of 2019 to September 2020.
While the audit found the department “significantly complies with the state purchase card procedures,” it also found significant problems.
Some cardholders bent the rules by splitting purchases into amounts lower than $5,000 to circumvent the approval process.
The audit found several cases of invoices dated on the same day and from the same place. Both purchases would be under $5,000 separately.
At the time of the audit, the Oklahoma Film and Music Division was under the Department of Tourism umbrella.
The audit shows the agency violated competitive bidding requirements and spent more the $30,000 on food and alcohol while throwing parties for film and music executives.
The report confirms the purchases exceeded the daily amount allowed for meals and alcohol.
“In addition, drinking while working has the potential to cause additional legal risk to the state,” the audit states.
The audit examined 188 transactions, totaling $500,000 in taxpayer money, and one-third of those were missing all supporting documentation.
Auditors were “unable to determine what was purchased, at what cost and quantity, and if the purchase was made for legitimate and valid governmental purposes,” for over $214,000 in transactions.
Two top officials from the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department were also questioned in 2018 over possible mismanagement of state funds.
Since the beginning of the Foggy Bottom controversy, there has been a shake up in upper-level management at the Department of Tourism. Jerry Winchester, who had served as Executive Director of the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department, resigned in the days following the report and replaced with the former executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Shelley Zumwalt as of October 2022.
News 4 asked to speak with the department on the audit and the impending OSBI investigation. Instead, the agency sent a statement.
“The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department was commended for its response to the audit, its work updating internal purchasing procedures and is under new leadership,” said spokesperson Chase Horn. “We fail to see how a report that is nearly two years old is the most newsworthy item related to OTRD in 2023.”
One state lawmaker close to the situation did not want to go on camera, but told KFOR there will be new developments involving the Tourism Department in the coming weeks.
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