A state audit released Wednesday has revealed that the Oklahoma State Education Department used two undisclosed banking 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 inside a puff pastry,’ without following any of the requirements normally related to government expenditures,\” the report from the state Auditor and Inspector’s Office says.
The slush funds allowed Education Department officials to cover 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 the scandal is simply a misunderstanding and that the funds creation and use was approved by the attorney general at that time.
\”I’ve experienced public office for a long time and the last thing I would condone or approve is any type of illegal activity,\”
A serious problem with the use of the accounts is that they show expenditure for wine, beer and various luxury foods. However taxpayer funds can\’t be used to purchase food or beverages, and any agency wanting to serve such items will have to solicit private donations to pay for the cost.
\”Anytime you gather funds as a state employee, on state time, that cash should be deposited right into a state account. Obviously, that didn’t happen,\” state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said. \”When you start looking at the way the money was spent, I think there were obviously ways the cash was spent which were not legal, like alcohol.\”
The attorney general\’s office happens to be reviewing the audit and it is currently unclear what action is going to be taken by law enforcement officials.