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AG Sued For Records After Releasing Suppressed Audit That Found Evidence of Conspiracy At Tar Creek

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma
A worker brushes dusty mine waste off a truck before it exits a field at the Tar Creek Superfund in northeastern Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on Monday released an audit and other documents related to a corruption probe his office fought to keep secret.

The records stem from an investigation launched in 2011 of the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust, which was set up to buy contaminated properties and relocate residents near the Tar Creek Superfund site, a former lead and zinc mine in northeastern Oklahoma.

Former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, now the administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, directed state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones to conduct the audit, which was completed in 2014. The audit found no “direct” evidence, but “did provide considerable circumstantial evidence” of a conspiracy against the state, possible bid-rigging and suggested a cleanup project that could have cost taxpayers less than $600,000 instead totaled $3.6 million.

Hunter says neither the AG’s office nor EPA officials found enough evidence to file charges. The AG’s office under Pruitt and Hunter refused to release a copy of the audit and denied requests by Jones to publicly release it.

In November 2017,  Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Campaign For Accountability sued Hunter and Jones, arguing the audit was a public record under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act.

In court filings, Jones argued in favor of releasing the audit under the public records law.

Hunter said he was releasing the Tar Creek audit “at his discretion” and with approval from the judge presiding over the state’s Multicounty Grand Jury.

“The politicization of this matter by an out of state special interest group is unnecessary and unwarranted,” Hunter said in a statement. “My office continues to support transparency and remains committed to sharing information with Oklahomans in a manner consistent with the obligation to protect the rights of informants and individuals who are not charged with a crime.”

A day after the audit’s release, Campaign For Accountability filed another lawsuit seeking copies of communications between Pruitt, agency staff and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe regarding the Tar Creek Superfund site and the relocation trust.

The group in November 2017 requested copies of the communications, which Hunter denied, according to the lawsuit. Hunter and the AG’s office has not responded to the April 10 lawsuit and has not responded to StateImpact’s request for comment.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Joe was a founding reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma (2011-2019) covering the intersection of economic policy, energy and environment, and the residents of the state.
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