The state auditor and inspector's office is preparing an investigation into an Oklahoma City police captain's whistle-blower complaint that a city employee misappropriated funds for personal gain and his superiors sought to keep it quiet, but top city officials flatly deny any corruption or cover-up took place.
At a meeting earlier this month, the Oklahoma City Council voted unanimously with no discussion to request a state audit of “certain city contracts regarding implementation of various public safety systems.” Mayor Mick Cornett formally requested the audit in a letter received Oct. 4 by State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.
City Manager Jim Couch and Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry acknowledged that a complaint filed by a city employee was related to the audit request, but said they couldn't comment on the complaint or the investigation because it was a personnel matter. City attorneys cited state laws protecting the release of information “part of a confidential personnel investigation” in refusing to release the complaint.
The Oklahoman later obtained the complaint through a source who provided it on condition of anonymity. In it, Oklahoma City police Capt. Bradd Brown alleges a city employee misappropriated funds related to a project to create a new public safety communications and records system, and efforts to “hide or minimize information given to” the city council about the problems reached as high as Couch's office.
Brown declined to comment when reached by telephone.
Couch had a simple answer, “No,” when asked whether there was any financial impropriety related to the project or whether anyone participated in an effort to hide information from the city council.
“Why would I do that? What purpose would there be for me to do that?” Couch asked rhetorically and with exasperation in his voice. He went on to note instances when his staff had to present an unforeseen problem that required more city spending, and a full report was made to the council for their consideration and approval.
The crux of Brown's whistle-blower complaint is an allegation that Kerry Wagnon, the city employee who manages the Public Safety Capital Projects, “misappropriated and prepaid project funds for personal gain.” Brown goes on to allege that Couch, Information Technology Department Director Schad Meldrum and others “conspired” to hide evidence from the council, and ignored requests from other city employees for an audit of the project “because their office failed to provide the correct oversight of project funds.”
“It is unfortunate that this issue is playing out under these circumstances and I am certain that when the facts are known, no additional response will be required,” Wagnon wrote to The Oklahoman in an email. “However, until the investigation into the validity of those allegations is concluded, I am unable to further discuss them.”
Brown filed the whistle-blower complaint Sept. 14 with the city's ethics hotline. The city auditor, who like Couch reports directly to the city council, recommended to the council that the state auditor's office should investigate.
“There are some personnel matters involved that I think it's just important we get a third party, an entirely disinterested party, to look at it,” City Auditor Jim Williamson said.
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