MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

March 28, 2013

Audit shows OSBI used state time for nonprofits

— OKLAHOMA CITY — Employees at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation used state resources and time to raise money for two nonprofits associated with the agency, including an employee's association that spent nearly $10,000 to take 11 employees on a cruise, according to a state audit released Thursday.

A copy of the audit will be forwarded to the attorney general's office to decide if further investigation is warranted, State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said.

"We will make this report available to others, but that's a determination for them to make as far as where to go with this," Jones told The Associated Press.

The audit, which was requested by OSBI Director Stan Florence, examined the agency's role with two separate nonprofits: Friends of the OSBI Inc. and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Employee Association.

The audit showed that OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown, who also is president of Friends of the OSBI, spent 10 percent of her time as a state employee raising money for the nonprofit, including soliciting donations from agency employees and local merchants.

"In the course of an interview, Brown acknowledged that she was the primary fundraiser for Friends and that 90-95 percent of her fundraising efforts were performed while fulfilling her official duties as an OSBI employee," the audit states.

Brown also told auditors she solicited, collected and deposited donations for the nonprofit into a bank account that was not maintained "under the cover of the state of Oklahoma as required by statute," according to the audit.

Brown told the AP that she still serves as president of the nonprofit, but that she no longer uses state time or resources to conduct its business. She declined to comment further, saying she had not read the audit.

Florence, who took over as head of the OSBI two years ago, said he requested the audit to "make sure that our house was clean" and that he already has taken steps to comply with recommendations in the office. He said agency employees were directed in March 2012 not to perform work for the nonprofits on state time or use state resources. He also said the agency is developing memorandums of understanding with the nonprofits to document the ongoing relationship with the agency.

"We'll make those changes and move forward," Florence said.

An examination of the OSBI Employee's Association expenses from August 2011 to September 2012 shows that nearly 90 percent of the money raised was spent on a golf tournament fundraiser and a cruise for 11 employees. Some of those expenses could be considered "pecuniary gain" prohibited by both state law and the Oklahoma Constitution, the audit stated.

The audit also indicated that the agency refused to turn over documents associated with Friends of the OSBI to the auditor. In a response to the auditors' request for documents, the nonprofit's legal counsel refused to release the documents without a confidentiality agreement.

"As a result, we could not ascertain the extent of the assistance provided the OSBI through Friends, or whether the manner and means in which assistance was provided, was appropriate under the law," the audit states.

Jones said he hopes that other state agencies that may have affiliated nonprofits take a close look at how those are operating.

"We have had some concerns about how agencies and nonprofits operate," Jones said. "We're trying to explain to folks that a proper procedure needs to be followed."

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