(The Center Square) - Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation (OTRD) said they are exploring ways to recoup taxpayer dollars lost as a result of their relationship with a restaurant vendor.
The department announced in a news release Monday it was terminating its lease contract with Swadley's Foggy Bottom Kitchen "due to suspected fraudulent activity and questionable business practices."
The decision comes after a report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) identified a significant growth in expenditures resulting from the contract.
"Nearly $6 million in expenses were related to construction costs, management fees, and reimbursements," according to the report. "OTRD also covered more than $2 million in operational losses for the contracted restaurant vendor. Recent expenditures on several restaurants located within state parks exceed Parks' estimate of the restaurant's replacement value multiple times."
OTRD said the department began an investigation in the fall of 2021.
"Financial payments for construction costs were immediately halted in September, while management fees were suspended in December," department officials said in the news release. "After extensive review, it has become clear the continuation of the agreement with Foggy Bottom Kitchen is not in the best interest of Oklahoma taxpayers."
The restaurant company released a statement on Facebook earlier this month.
"From the beginning, every aspect of the Foggy Bottom Kitchen project has been directed and approved by state officials," the statement said. "We stand by our team and all that we have done to benefit the people of our beautiful state."
The OTRD's focus has shifted to recouping taxpayer funds.
"Oklahoma State Parks staff are reaching out to all existing reservations to ensure any catering needs are fulfilled," OTRD officials said in the news release. "Department staff are also working with local small businesses to find creative solutions to meet park guest demands until new restaurant operations can begin in the newly remodeled facilities. Per the agreement, all improvements made to state park restaurants by Swadley's remain property of the State of Oklahoma."
The lease termination is just the first step, department officials said.
"We are continuing to cooperate with investigators and auditors to determine the extent to which unlawful behavior has been perpetuated against the state," department officials said.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater asked State Auditor Cindy Byrd for an investigation earlier this month, according to KFOR.
Meanwhile, OTRD is asking lawmakers for an additional $19.3 million in its fiscal year 2023 budget to help operate its 33 parks.
LOFT recommended "freezing capital expenditures for OTRD until completion of an asset inventory."
"Afterwards, the Legislature may consider requiring approval for purchases of capital assets valued at $1 million or more," LOFT said.
via Oklahoma's Center Square News