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Oklahoma taxpayers owe Swadley's nearly $2.6 million, legal filing says

Swadley's Bar-B-Q

A barbeque restaurant chain that once operated locations in six state parks says the state owes it nearly $2.6 million.

In a motion filed Monday, Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen is asking an Oklahoma County district court to make the state pay.

The State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department in April 2022 sued Swadley’s for breach of contract stemming from its remodeling of six restaurants in state parks.

After Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the lawsuit and the resignation of the agency’s director, Jerry Winchester, Swadley’s countersued.

“Gov. Stitt and Lt. Gov. (Matt) Pinnell self-servingly supported Tourism’s lawsuit so that neither candidate would have to address this political hot potato in an election year,” according to the legal brief.

Stitt and Pinnell were both reelected on Nov. 8, 2022. Pinnell provided oversight and instruction to the company, said Bryan King, a Swadley’s attorney.

“If the governor and lieutenant governor had investigated the construction, rehabilitation, and management of the six restaurants at issue, they would have had no choice but to publicly admit that this was a ‘Tourism scandal,’ not a Swadley’s FBK scandal,” the brief said.

“The Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the filing and will respond when it is appropriate,” said Phil Bacharach, a spokesman.

The office is representing the state in the litigation.

Swadley’s rehabilitation of the six facilities has given the state a value in excess of $11 million more than what the agency has paid Swadley’s to date, according to the brief.

“In short, Tourism filed this lawsuit to distract public attention away from its own unwise spending decisions that proved politically unpopular and improper under Tourism’s own written management plan,” the brief said.

In March 2020, records show that the company entered a contract with the state to redesign, rebuild and revitalize six restaurants in state parks.

The state paid the company nearly $17 million for restaurant work and to make other improvements.

After questions were raised about the contract, state leaders canceled it due to what they deemed “suspected fraudulent activity.”

Questions arose about an agreement for the state to pay the company’s operational losses up to $1 million a year and costs associated with equipment and other purchases, among other things.

Swadley’s legal brief alleges a cover up was orchestrated to hide a $4 million deficit in the Tourism Department’s budget.

The motion filed Monday is for partial summary judgment.

“A motion for partial summary judgment is a tool in a civil suit,” King said. “A party can ask the court to rule on things as a matter of law because the facts are undisputed.”

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Barbara Hoberock is a senior reporter with Oklahoma Voice. She began her career in journalism in 1989 after graduating from Oklahoma State University. She began with the Claremore Daily Progress and then started working in 1990 for the Tulsa World. She has covered the statehouse since 1994 and served as Tulsa World Capitol Bureau chief. She covers statewide elected officials, the legislature, agencies, state issues, appellate courts and elections.
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