A Houston-based food distributor has agreed to pay the state more than $36,000 after an investigation found the company overcharged state entities.
Sysco Foods signed a contract with the state of Oklahoma in October 2009 to provide food for its various entities.
Earlier this year, the state Central Purchasing Division investigated allegations Sysco was selling the same product at different prices to several state departments and facilities.
The differences in prices were first discovered through a data collection program created and operated by inmates at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
The program initially was developed to monitor inmates during meal times.
By entering each inmate in a computer system as they received their food, corrections employees hoped to catch prisoners who were getting back in line and receiving a second meal. As part of the data collection, the inmates also gathered information on the quantities and pricing of food their facility receives from Sysco.
The program has been in place at Joseph Harp for nearly two years. The state Corrections Department has incorporated aspects of it in all of the state's medium- and maximum-security facilities, agency spokesman Jerry Massie said.
After reviewing the results of the Corrections Department investigation, Central Purchasing staff worked with Sysco to identify price discrepancies in several other state agencies.
In total, Sysco overcharged the state $36,589 in 2013, the investigation found. The company has agreed to reimburse each state entity. Just over half of those refunds will go to the Corrections Department, according to documents obtained through an open records request. Other agencies include the Department of Public Safety, county jails, hospitals and juvenile centers.
Sysco amended its practices in January, including paying more attention to product changes, increased updating on the availability of items, elimination of automatic substitutions for out-of-stock products and stronger monitoring of price fluctuations.
The state’s contract with Sysco will continue. It ends in August 2015.
Sysco spokesman Charley Wilson declined requests for an interview.
State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, has been touting the Joseph Harp data program’s merits for months, saying it has the potential to save money in several other state facilities.
“I think that we definitely need to get the program and expand it to all the prisons,” Cleveland said. “Because of this program, it made Sysco pay a lot more attention to what they’re doing.”
In a late January email, also obtained through an open records request, state Purchasing Director Scott Schlotthauer said he was interested in looking into how the program could give more oversight to other state contracts.
Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus confirmed Friday the state is considering expanding the scope of the data program at Joseph Harp.
“We are we going to be speaking to the Corrections Department about how we can utilize these inmates’ skills in the future,” Estus said.
“We don’t know if it will be possible,” Estus added. “There are a lot of details to be worked out, but we’re certainly going to be looking at it.”