Despite providing millions in taxpayer money to the Oklahoma Youth Expo over the past decade, the state Agriculture Department has not received a copy of an independent audit performed on the private charity last year.
Tyler Norvell, executive director of the expo for the past year, said the audit performed by Oklahoma firm J.D. Beller and Company is being withheld by the organization's board of directors because of ongoing litigation.
The audit is the first one performed on the private charity, which was founded in 2001. The original audit was finished in September, but Norvell said a mistake was discovered before it was approved by the board.
“The second version of the audit was finalized on Dec. 6 and approved by the board on Dec. 12,” Novell said. “However, due to pending litigation, (our) legal counsel has still not authorized the release of the audit.”
The expo's annual youth livestock show, billed as the world's largest, is scheduled to begin later in the month.
But as the state's vocational agriculture students begin descending on Oklahoma City in the coming days, the Oklahoma Youth Expo likely will remain embroiled in two lawsuits involving millions in taxpayer funds appropriated to the organization by the agriculture department.
In September, state Reps. Mike Reynolds and Mike Ritze filed a lawsuit against the state and several officials in attempt to stop the state Agriculture Department from giving $2 million to the Oklahoma Youth Expo.
The initial lawsuit claimed the use of taxpayer funds in such a way wasn't appropriate.
“No ... law has been passed by the Legislature specifically authorizing the State, through and of its agencies or officials, to give or in any manner provide the Youth Expo with $2 million of public funds,” the lawsuit states.
Another lawsuit, filed in January by Reynolds, is seeking to recover $2,342,750 in taxpayer money given to the expo by the agriculture department since 2010.
The second suit alleges that the expo does not provide the state Agriculture Department with “valuable consideration” enough to justify the millions in taxpayer money the agency has given the organization.
The suit also questions the stability of the expo, which does not have to provide records to the public upon request.
“The private nature of Youth Expo ... shows that it operates free of any control or management of or by any officer or agency of the state,” the suit states. “Upon information and belief, Youth Expo has been operating under financial deficiencies.
“The $2 million payment to Youth Expo resembles a financial ‘bailout.'”
The state Agriculture Department has been giving money to the Oklahoma Youth Expo since 2002.
In all, the state agency has given the private charity $4,450,000, including $1 million in 2008 to establish an endowment for former Executive Director Justin Whitefield, who died in a plane crash in November 2006.
Both suits are pending in Oklahoma County District Court, records show.