Monday, October 22, 2012

DA Sparks OSBI Probe of 2 Rogers County Commissioners

CLAREMORE, Okla. (Oct. 22, 2012)—Rogers County District Attorney Janice Steidley today confirmed that the OSBI has, at her request, started investigating allegations of “bid splitting” involving two county commissioners as well as an allegation of improper solicitation of gifts and political contributions from vendors by one of them.

Steidley said she acted after the State Auditor’s Office identified possible bid splitting. Steidley stressed that an investigation is a fact-finding process, not an indication that an individual is involved in any wrongdoing. “I had documentation brought to me that I had questions on and it would not be appropriate for me to do my own investigation,” Steidley said. 

The allegations involve Commission Chairman Mike Helm, who represents District Two, and District Three Commissioner Kirt Thacker. She said the commissioners have indicated to her that they have no problem being investigated and will cooperate fully to put the allegations to rest. 

The initial allegations of “bid splitting” stem from ten road striping projects performed at a total cost of $98,183 from July through December 2009 by Time Striping Inc. Five projects totaling $48,765 were performed for District Two and Five worth $49,918 were performed for District 3, according to a state audit released in late July.

The County had not bid an overall contract for road striping services during the year and did not bid the individual projects, the audit noted. Once bids were taken, the cost per linear foot dropped.

Steidley noted since she has been in office that the auditor’s office has alerted her if any of its finding may require additional investigation. That did not happen with this audit. By the time the audit was issued, the three-year statute of limitations had run out for the first month of purchases. 

Steidley received documentation on the issue September 25, 2012, she immediately called the Attorney General on Sept. 27. On Oct. 2, First Assistant Rob Hudson said the AG’s office could not handle the case due to manpower constraints.

She called the director of the OSBI the next day, and received a call saying the OSBI would take the case. Steidley also asked Attorney General Scott Pruitt to name a special prosecutor to review any resulting OSBI report so there would be no delay if the OSBI developed a report suggesting a need for criminal prosecution. “If any action is taken, it must be taken quickly,” Steidley said. Pruitt has appointed District 13 DA Eddie Wyant as special prosecutor. Wyant was expected to have the review conducted by First Assistant Ben Loring, who has special expertise in county purchasing issues, Steidley said.

Appointing an outside DA to serve as special prosecutor is standard practice in any investigation involving alleged official misconduct by commissioners, since the local DA’s office serves as legal advisor to both the board and individual commissioners in their official capacities. District Attorneys do not represent commissioners in any matters which might involve criminal conduct.

OSBI field work in Rogers County reportedly began Friday, although Steidley noted that she has now referred the matters to the appropriate authorities and will no longer be directly involved in the case.

The DA noted that the purchases were made during her predecessor’s tenure. She said she could find no record that any issues were raised to or by that office about the purchases.

The County Clerk’s office serves as the purchasing agent for all County offices, including the three commissioners, and there also is no record that it raised any issues at the time they were made. “It is unfortunate that these questions were not raised three years ago,” Steidley concluded.

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