Oklahoma attorney general finds nothing improper in contract linked to affair

The Oklahoma attorney general's office today concluded the state properly awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a group working with a lobbyist who had an extramarital affair with a state senator.
BY JOHN ESTUS and ANN KELLEY Modified: December 31, 2010 at 8:12 am •  Published: December 31, 2010
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“These are all good people who worked really hard to try to do something good for the adjudicated youth of Oklahoma.”

Review limited

The attorney general's review focused on the bidding process conducted by the state Central Services Department. It did not address whether there was improper contact concerning the contract between state officials and potential bidders, nor whether Coates acted improperly by having an affair with a lobbyist who was working on legislation with him.

Brent Clark, an attorney for the Clinton group, said the review was a “total whitewash” because it focused only on the nuances of the bidding process.

“All they did was got an outline of the process and reviewed it. For a lawyer to put out a report like this almost makes me embarrassed to be a lawyer, too,” Clark said.

Clark said he is disappointed the review didn't address what he called inappropriate conduct by some state officials, specifically Christian.

“The affair is improper, but no one really cares about that,” Clark said. “The real bad actor in all this is Gene Christian.”

Christian made multiple visits to a Rite of Passage academy in Colorado before bidding began and urged his board members to do the same, records show.

He also dined at a private club in downtown Oklahoma City with Rite of Passage officials the night before bidders made their presentations for the new juvenile center to the agency's board, records show.

Further, Christian's legislative liaison worked closely with Atwood and Coates this year on a bill that changed state law to allow the agency to work with charter schools, records show.

Rite of Passage operates its academies as charter schools and wouldn't have been able to do business with the agency if not for the bill, which passed and is now law.

Failed bidders have said Christian's actions make it appear as if he was biased in favor of Rite of Passage.

New approach

The winning bid was made by an Ada group working with Rite of Passage.

The bid calls for a 144-bed nonsecure juvenile academy in Ada to be operated by Rite of Passage. The state's request for proposals asked for a maximum-security detention center with secure beds.

To meet the secure bed requirement, the Ada group proposed expanding an existing juvenile detention center in Tecumseh and adding the secure beds there.

Failed bidders have complained the Rite of Passage academy is unnecessary because it doesn't adequately replace the problematic L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, a maximum-security center that houses some of the state's most dangerous juvenile offenders.

Legislators earlier this year asked the agency to seek bids for a new juvenile center in part because Rader is expected to close soon.

The Rite of Passage academy would admit certain juvenile offenders who have already been in traditional detention centers. It would operate as an academic academy that seeks to prepare juvenile offenders to be productive members of society following the completion of their sentences.

Coates, Atwood and Christian have said such an academy offers a unique approach to juvenile corrections not currently available in Oklahoma.

“It's a good day for the youthful offenders in Oklahoma,” Coates said Thursday.

“Now, hopefully, the process can move on, they can sign a contract with Ada and start building a facility that will turn these kids into taxpayers instead of tax users.”



Comments by Senate Pro Tem-elect Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa:

“I am relieved to find that there is no evidence of undue influence or criminal wrongdoing in this matter as the attorney general's investigation concluded. The seriousness of the allegations required a full and thorough examination of the facts and an independent review by the attorney general was needed.

“In the Oklahoma Senate we strive to uphold high standards of conduct. Personal and private behavior should not prohibit our effectiveness at the Capitol or bring legitimate official business into question. Thankfully, the independent investigation found none of the criminal allegations to be true and Sen. Coates is clear of wrongdoing related to this matter.

“There are no plans at this time for additional inquiries by the Senate. In absence of new information coming to light, I believe this matter is closed and that we should put it behind us.”

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