Oklahoma AG Seeks Audit Of Health Department Spending

Apr 29, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s top prosecutor on Tuesday requested an investigative audit of the state Health Department over the agency’s spending of state-appropriated funds. 

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Attorney General Mike Hunter’s request was related to the state’s coronavirus response, which the agency is leading.

Hunter formally requested the audit of the State Department of Health in a letter to State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd.

“One of the duties of the Attorney General as the chief law officer of the state is to enforce the proper application of monies appropriated by the Legislature and to prosecute breaches of trust in the administration of such funds,” Hunter wrote.

A spokesman for Hunter declined to elaborate on the request, but Hunter’s chief deputy warned the agency’s director, Gary Cox in a separate letter Tuesday about retaliating against employees who report “wrongful governmental activities” under the state’s Whistleblower Act.

“As it is reasonably foreseeable that the records examined may be evidence in future proceedings, you should take immediate action to preserve any items — including but not limited to electronically stored information — germane to this inquiry,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Mary Ann Roberts wrote to Cox.

Cox said in a statement the agency is committed to full transparency and that he’s confident the financial review will uncover no wrongdoing.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt also released a statement late Tuesday saying he was disappointed in Hunter’s request.

“It is disappointing that the attorney general would see the need to entangle the agency with an investigation when it is in the midst of responding to the most historic pandemic of our time,” Stitt said. “I fully expect quick and thorough compliance as we have already put strong reporting requirements in place.”

The request comes just days after The Associated Press reported the agency spent $2 million to acquire a malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump to treat patients with the coronavirus, despite warnings from doctors that more research is needed.

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s secretary of health, Jerome Loughridge, said Tuesday that purchase was made during the “fog of war” in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and before the release of studies that downplayed the effectiveness of the drug, hydroxychloroquine, to treat COVID-19.

Oklahoma acquired 1.2 million pills, or about 100,000 doses, on April 4 from FFF Enterprises, a California-based medical supply wholesaler, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Hunter’s request for an audit was first reported by The Oklahoman newspaper.