NORMAN — Despite an ongoing audit by the Internal Revenue Service, a Cleveland County commissioner denied that a $52 million bond issued to build a sprawling new jail has been mishandled in any way.
Commissioner Rod Cleveland, who is also a Cleveland County Justice Authority board member, told The Oklahoman he’s confident nothing is amiss with the millions in jail money.
“I don’t know if you call anything routine when it comes to an IRS audit, but there’s nothing there — that we did — that we were afraid of being caught on,” he said.
“But until we get that letter from the federal government that tells us so, we don’t know anything else.”
The Cleveland County Justice Authority is being audited by the IRS as it continues to pay off a $52 million bond it issued to build a new jail in north Norman.
The facility, which opened in February and is touted as state-of-the-art by officials, cost only $24 million to build because of the economic collapse in late 2008.
For many large projects that began in 2009, bids were low and millions of dollars were saved as the construction industry suffered mightily through the early days of the recession, Cleveland said.
Documents kept secret
County officials will not release certain documents received from the IRS, citing a state law that allows them to keep the information secret if they expect future litigation.
“It’s a routine audit,” said Carol Dillingham, an assistant district attorney for the county.
“Just like a normal person goes through when they are audited.”
Dillingham said the IRS audit is apparently random in nature, adding that she “wouldn’t have any way to know” if some other entity requested the inquiry.
Cleveland said the initial letter from the IRS was addressed to the justice authority’s attorney, which is why it is being withheld from the public.
He said the letter asked the authority to provide “about 10 things” as part of the audit.
“Which is … we need to see your bank deposits … we want to see where you spent your money at … who you deposit it with,” the commissioner said. “It was those things.”
Agent visits jail, gets data
The IRS agent, who toured the new jail and county offices in mid-October, also collected bond documents and visited with the jail authority’s lawyers.
Dillingham said the county provided the federal agency with “well over a thousand pages” of documents related to the jail’s construction.
Questions about tax
Cleveland County residents in 2008 approved a quarter-cent tax to fund repayment of the bond, and the money has been flowing in since then.
Concerned members of the public have questioned what will happen to the “extra” money once the jail is paid off — which is likely going to be very early.
Commissioners have long said that they will end the tax if the jail’s debt is paid off.
Dillingham said the IRS inquiry is ongoing and that “a final letter” has not been received from the federal agency.