The audit shows questionable credit card purchases made at the Oklahoma Department of Tourism

Allie Meyer/KFOR and Kaylee Douglas/KFOR

22 min ago

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Department of Tourism and Recreation is currently fighting a legal battle over the state parks’ Foggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants and the restaurant group’s alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars.

Through an Open Records request, KFOR obtained an audit of government credit cards used by tourism officials over the years, showing a pattern of improper spending and violations of agency rules.

It’s been almost a year since the Foggy Bottom Kitchen scandal began.

The state of Oklahoma accused Swadley’s, which operated the state park restaurants, of defrauding state taxpayers out of millions of dollars.

Swadley’s denies the allegations and countersued the state.

A newly released 50-page audit points to a history of questionable financial transactions at the Department of Tourism long before the legal battle with Swadley’s.

State auditors reviewed the department’s credit card transactions from early 2019 through September 2020.

While the audit found the department to be in “significant compliance with state purchasing card procedures,” it also found significant problems.

Some cardholders have broken the rules by splitting purchases into amounts lower than $5,000 to bypass the approval process.

The audit found several cases of invoices from the same day and from the same place. Both purchases would be under $5,000 individually.

At the time of the audit, the Oklahoma Department of Film and Music was under the umbrella of the Department of Tourism.

The audit found the agency violated competitive bidding requirements and spent more than $30,000 on food and alcohol while hosting parties for film and music executives.

The report confirmed that the purchases exceeded the permitted daily allowance for food and alcohol.

“Furthermore, drinking on the job has the potential to cause additional legal risk to the state,” the audit stated.

The audit examined 188 transactions totaling $500,000 in taxpayer money, with a third missing all supporting documentation.

Auditors “were unable to determine what was purchased, at what price and quantity, and whether the purchase was made for a lawful and valid government purpose” for more than $214,000 in transactions.

Two top officials from the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation were also questioned in 2018 for possible misuse of state funds.

Since the start of the Misty Bottom controversy, there has been a shake-up in top-level leadership at the Ministry of Tourism. Jerry Winchester, who served as executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, resigned in the days after the report and has since been replaced by former Oklahoma Employment Security Commission executive director Shelley Zumwalt.

News 4 asked to speak with the department about the audit and the upcoming OSBI investigation. Instead, the agency sent a message.

“The Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation was commended for its response to the audit, its work to update internal purchasing procedures and is under new leadership,” spokesman Chase Horn said. “We don’t see how a report that is almost two years old is the most newsworthy topic related to OTRD in 2023.”

A state lawmaker close to the situation did not want to go on camera, but told KFOR there will be new developments in the coming weeks involving the Department of Tourism.

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