A new report shows Lt. Governor and Tourism Secretary Matt Pinnell signed off on a $1.5 million payment to Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen without seeing an invoice.
On July 22, Pinnell wrote “Approved” to Katherine Nichols, CFO for the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department, in regard to a $1.5 million payment for “the remainder of invoices in FY21,” according to the emails published by the Frontier.
Former Tourism Director Jerry Winchester also approved of the payment, which included no invoice from Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen. Winchester resigned from his position last month.
Mariah Carter, Communications Coordinator for Pinnell’s office, said there are “prior levels of accountability and approval that must occur” before vendor invoices reach him.
“At the time of the invoice in question, the Lt. Governor had full faith in the agency director and trusted he had properly vetted the information,” Carter said in an email. “(Pinnell) feels accountable to taxpayers and certainly sees it as his responsibility to not only get to the bottom of this issue, but also make sure the proper systems are in place to prevent something like this from happening again.”
The Tourism department’s contract with the Swadley’s is under extreme scrutiny by state lawmakers.
Rep. Ryan Martinez, the chair of a special house committee investigating the contract, said they will likely call on Pinnell to testify “sooner rather than later.”
“With this new revelation, I’m sure there will be plenty of committee members that will have plenty of questions about it,” Martinez told reporters Monday.
The director of a state spending watchdog group told the committee Friday that $12.4 million of the nearly $17 OTRD paid to Swadley’s could have been “saved” if the state “would have just specifically had controls in place.”
“They did not have the controls in place to ensure that tax dollars were being spent wisely,” said Mike Jackson, director of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency.