Attorney general to review contract tied to Oklahoma senator-lobbyist affair

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson will review the process used to award a contract to a client of lobbyist Haley Atwood, who has been having an extramarital affair with state Sen. Harry Coates.
BY JOHN ESTUS jestus@opubco.com Modified: December 7, 2010 at 9:29 am •  Published: December 7, 2010
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The state attorney general's office agreed Monday to review how a multimillion-dollar state contract was awarded to a group working with a lobbyist romantically linked to a state senator.

The $10 million-a-year contract for new state juvenile centers was to be signed Monday, but the signing was delayed last week after revelations by The Oklahoman that state Sen. Harry Coates and lobbyist Haley Atwood helped steer the contract to Atwood's client.

Coates, 60, and Atwood, 29, were having an extramarital affair while working on the juvenile center project.

The attorney general's review will focus on the process used to award the contract, a spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

The attorney general's office last week made a phone call inquiring about the process and decided no investigation was warranted.

However, agency officials decided to start a more in-depth review Monday after an afternoon meeting between Senate Pro Tem-elect Brian Bingman and First Assistant Attorney General Tom Gruber.

“They presented us with some paperwork that we had not previously seen,” said Charlie Price, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Price declined to elaborate on what new information was presented Monday.

Failed bidders for the contract have alleged Coates, Atwood and Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian rigged the bidding process to favor Atwood's client, private juvenile academy operator Rite of Passage.

Coates, Atwood and Christian have denied wrongdoing.

Bingman, R-Sapulpa, last week began a Senate investigation into the bidding process for the contract.

Bingman's spokesman declined to discuss what was presented to the attorney general's office Monday, saying only that it was discovered through the Senate's “internal investigation.”

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