A "culture of corruption” continues to taint the Kiamichi Technology Center School District despite indictments and lengthy investigations, a state grand jury said in a report issued Friday. The grand jury noted it was the second multicounty grand jury to investigate criminal misuse of public property at the school district, which has 10 campuses and encompasses most of the southeastern quarter of the state. Walt Haskins, attorney for the Kiamichi school district, countered by issuing a news release Friday. He accused Attorney General Drew Edmondson's office of using the grand jury "for political rather than investigatory purposes.” Haskins alleged the attorney general's office led the grand jury to indict board members because the attorney general was "in league with powerful state legislators.” He claimed legislators were upset with board members because they refused to continue to allow them to use Kiamichi as a "source of political patronage jobs for friends and relatives.” "If the attorney general's office is truly interested in finding a ‘culture of corruption,' it need only look to its own relationship with those legislators who have stirred this pot,” Haskins wrote.
Allegations surfacing againTwo grand juries have alleged school district employees diverted public property to support political campaigns. They also alleged that people under investigation joined with others to "impede or block or punish witnesses giving evidence regarding the crimes being investigated.” "We are concerned that a culture of corruption remains in the Kiamichi School District,” the grand jury said in its report. The grand jury blamed the extraordinary size of the career technology district for contributing to the problem by creating a "great political force within that section of the state.” The district holds at-large school board elections at times when other elections are not being held, which creates a situation where most voters are unlikely to know the candidates and few people vote, the grand jury said. Grand jurors recommended breaking it into small districts and establishing term limits for board members. "We also recommend that the rules and regulations of the Kiamichi Technology Center School District Board of Education be amended to clearly state that no equipment, including but not limited to vehicles or computer equipment, shall be used for political purposes,” the grand jury said.
Indictments get droppedGrand jurors said they were investigating the misuse of school computers and equipment to print campaign literature for current Kiamichi board members when board members voted to fire the district superintendent and school board attorney who were assisting the grand jury with its investigation. "Particularly disturbing to the grand jury was the replacement of the school's attorney with the very attorney (Haskins) and law firm that had attempted to represent four of the persons under investigation by the grand jury,” the report said. The grand jury indicted several board members for "witness intimidation” because of the terminations, but a judge later threw out the charges, the grand jury noted. Trae Gray, attorney for Kiamichi board member Norman Ranger, criticized Edmondson's office for leading the grand jury to issue indictments against board members in cases he said were so weak they were thrown out by judges before they went to trial. "If anybody should look bad, it should be Mr. Edmondson's office,” Gray said. "They refuse to let go of the case.”
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Final report is revealing as state grand jury disbandsA state grand jury that heard testimony about the fatal shooting of two girls near Weleetka said in a final report, "These types of cases are tough.” No new indictments were issued Friday as grand jurors wrapped up their work and disbanded. The 11th state multicounty grand jury met for 41 days over 19 months. It indicted 16 people. Grand jurors revealed they helped out in dozens of homicide cases. "The grand jury heard testimony from witnesses in six different homicide cases. However, the grand jury assisted in a total of 52 homicide, missing person or cold case investigations in some way,” the final report said. "These types of cases are tough. Furtherance of any homicide investigation through the grand jury's involvement is of major significance if there is any possibility that the list of suspects will be narrowed or the crime will ultimately be solved.” Grand jurors heard from six witnesses this week in an effort to help solve the June shooting of friends Taylor Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11. The grand jury's final report did not specifically address their deaths. Grand jurors also helped in that case and others by subpoenaing documents such as cell phone records. The grand jury issued almost 2,500 subpoenas, a record, since it was formed last year. Grand jurors investigated other types of crimes including public corruption, drug violations, adoption fraud and fraudulent claims for state payments. Assistants to Attorney General Drew Edmondson guide the probes. Grand jurors called for reforms to eliminate "a culture of corruption” at the Kiamichi Technology Center School District in southeastern Oklahoma. Grand jurors reported public property there has been misused for political purposes. Grand jurors also called on district attorneys to keep drug task forces in operation but tighten up procedures to prevent embezzlement of funds. A new grand jury could be formed in a few months. Staff Writer Nolan Clay