Some Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation employees maintained questionable relationships with two nonprofit support organizations — one of which spent $9,999 to help send 11 members on a cruise, according to a report released Thursday by Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.
Last September's four-day Carnival cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, was paid mostly by a nonprofit group called the OSBI Employee Association, the special audit report said.
Tommy Johnson, the OSBI's top white-collar crime investigator, serves as president of the OSBI Employee Association and is listed in billing records as being among those who were to go on the cruise. Johnson did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
OSBI Director Stan Florence said he did not go.
“I've never been on one in my life,” he said.
Florence said he believes the cruise was a pleasure trip.
Auditors said the cruise could have tax consequences.
“There may have been some personal benefits accrue to association members that could require reporting to appropriate federal and state taxing authorities,” the special audit report said of expenditures by the OSBI Employee Association.
Auditors said they also “determined that state resources were being used on behalf of the nonprofit organization.”
The other support group, Friends of OSBI, Inc., refused to let state auditors examine its financial records without a confidentiality agreement, arguing its records were private, auditors said.
“We do not agree with this position,” auditors said.
Auditors said their inquiry revealed that two OSBI employees served as officers of Friends of OSBI and that state time and the OSBI computer network were used to raise funds — a possible violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.
“An OSBI official solicited, collected, and deposited funds into an unofficial and unauthorized bank account belonging to a private nonprofit organization,” the report said.
Jessica Brown, the OSBI's public information officer, served as president of Friends of OSBI and raised funds for the nonprofit, while Tammy Blakley, an OSBI accountant, served as treasurer, the report said.
Auditors said Brown told them her job description called for her to spend 10 percent of her time on Friends of OSBI business. Brown told auditors she solicited donated items from local merchants and OSBI employees and then auctioned the items off to employees on the agency's intranet “auction” page. Proceeds went to support the organization.
Brown referred a call from The Oklahoman to Friends of OSBI attorney Debbie Self, who did not return a telephone call.
Florence, the OSBI director, told The Oklahoman he requested the special audit last March after reading a newspaper report on a state audit of the state Education Department.
That audit criticized Education Department employees for soliciting funds and passing the money through a nonprofit entity before the money was used to pay for wine, beer and food associated with state education conferences.
After reading the report on the Education Department audit, Florence said he immediately notified OSBI employees they could not use state time or equipment to support Friends of OSBI or OSBI Employee Association activities.
In response to a recommendation by auditors, Florence said his agency has drafted proposed memorandums of understanding between the OSBI and the two support groups spelling out relationships between the entities.
Florence said he has not taken disciplinary action against any employee as a result of the audit report and is not aware of any criminal investigation.
“We will analyze the report — myself, my staff, my legal staff — and if we feel like we need to take additional action on this beyond what we've already done, then we will certainly take that action,” Florence said.
“There are a lot of these (nonprofit support groups) in state agencies all over the place,” Florence said. “I don't know how clean it all is.”
Florence said he anticipated his agency might be asked to investigate the relationships between nonprofits and some of the other state agencies.
Financial records obtained by state auditors indicated the OSBI Employee Association was billed more than $12,000 for 11 employees and 19 guests to go on the cruise. The association paid $9,999 for employees to go and the employees paid the remainder for their guests.
Association members listed on confirmation statements as booked for the cruise included Johnson, Blakley, Debbie McKinney, Felicia Jackson, Linda DeArman, Jerry Huff, Deborah Curtis, Jennifer Powell, Talia Casey, Kevin Garrett and Linda Cain.
The audit report said the association currently has less than 20 active members, who pay $60 a year in dues. The association raises funds through a golf tournament.
The association's bylaws state the organization was formed to promote the interests of members; pay life insurance, legal representation and similar benefits for members; encourage professionalism; and encourage public service.
Friends of OSBI listed purposes that included helping the OSBI pay for equipment, overtime and labor; providing collegiate educational aid to children of OSBI employees; conducting educational programs; and acknowledging the service of private citizens, volunteers and law enforcement personnel who assist in the fight against crime.