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.
â€œThey presented us with some paperwork that we had not previously seen,â€ 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 â€œinternal investigation.â€
Coates, R-Seminole, has said he welcomes scrutiny of the bidding process because â€œthere were no shenanigans.â€
The state Central Services Department evaluated five bids for the contract.
Did bid meet request?
Christian last month announced intentions to award the contract to an Ada group that had retained Rite of Passage to operate a new 144-bed private juvenile academy in Ada.
Before being hired as a consultant by Rite of Passage, Atwood was hired as a lobbyist with the architect chosen to design Ada's proposed Rite of Passage academy. Atwood, Coates and Christian have since met several times about the project, records and interviews show.
Christian, Coates, Atwood and other legislators visited a Rite of Passage academy in Colorado while discussions were under way about building a juvenile center in Oklahoma.
A meeting between Coates and Christian was scheduled in Coates' office on the day the governor signed a bill asking the Office of Juvenile Affairs to seek bids for a new juvenile center, records show.
The agency's subsequent request for proposals asked for maximum-security beds at the new juvenile center.
The Rite of Passage academy in Ada would be a campuslike setting with no secure beds.
The Ada group also proposed adding 56 secure beds to an existing juvenile center on state land in Tecumseh.
Failed bidders have said the Rite of Passage
A new juvenile center is needed because the problematic L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs is expected to close soon. Rader has maximum-security beds.