A state audit released Wednesday has revealed that the Oklahoma State Education Department used two undisclosed bank account as entertainment expense slush funds, spending over $2.3m over the decade.
“These off-book and unauthorized accounts allowed (Education Department) 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 crabcakes,’ ‘mini beef wellingtons,’ and ‘smoked salmon mousse in a puff pastry,’ without following any of the requirements normally associated with government expenditures,” the report from the state Auditor and Inspector’s Office says.
The slush funds allowed Education Department officials to pay for alcohol, food and lodging “shielded from governmental oversight as well as public scrutiny.”
The accounts were set up under the leadership of former state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett who was in office from 1990 to 2010.
Garrett denies any misuse of funds, claiming that the scandal is simply a misunderstanding and that the funds creation and use was approved by the attorney general at the time.
“I’ve been in public office for a long time and the last thing I would condone or approve is any type of illegal activity,”
A major issue with the use of the accounts is that they show expenditure for wine, beer and various luxury food items. However taxpayer funds cannot be used to pay for food or beverages, and any agency wishing to serve such items would need to solicit private donations to cover the cost.
“Anytime you gather funds as a state employee, on state time, those funds should be deposited into a state account. Obviously, that didn’t happen,” state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said. “When you start looking at how the money was spent, I think there were obviously ways the money was spent that were not legal, like alcohol.”
The attorney general’s office is currently reviewing the audit and it is currently unclear what action will be taken by law enforcement officials.