Senate Opens Investigation of OJA, Coates

Senate President Pro Tempore-designate Brian Bingman met Thursday with the Executive Director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs as part of an investigation into alleged bid rigging involving a multimillion-dollar state contract. The Senate is considering whether to delay awarding the contract to a group favored by Sen. Harry Coates, Christian and lobbyist Haley Atwood.

According to reports published in the Oklahoman, the trio attended meetings and toured the Rite of Passage academy in Colorado while discussions about building a new facility were underway. Coates and Atwood, it has been revealed, were having an affair while working on this project, steering the $10 million-a-year contract to the group, Rite of Passage, that had hired Atwood.

The OPEA requested in a letter to Attorney General Drew Edmondson asking him to investigate the process used to award the contract. The AG declined citing a phone call to the Department of Central Services.

“If the bid was rigged prior to the RFP being given to DCS, how would the agency know?” said OPEA Deputy Director Scott Barger in response to AG’s reply. “The AG’s office should be looking at what every other concerned party alleges. Was there collusion in directing this RFP to a certain bidder?”

OPEA contends the statute directing the issuance of the RFP calls for secure beds at the maximum security level.

“How could the bid from Ada be responsive to the RFP,” questioned Barger. “OJA has never expressed a need for a private charter school.”

Still as yet left undiscovered are the connections to other private companies. According to documents obtained by OPEA, the Ada Youth Academy Authority, Norman firm Architects in Partnership (AIP), and Manhattan Construction company were all involved in the process prior to the RFP being finalized.

AIP paid for a trip to tour the Colorado facility for Coates and Atwood. AIP owner, Ben Graves has been selected to design the $27 million facility in Ada. Graves has said in reports he believes the facility should be named after Senator Coates. Graves has acknowledged he is friend of Coates.

“OPEA believes a thorough investigation; including interviews with the parties involved and a review of travel claims, e-mails, and correspondence; is critical for the citizens of Oklahoma to regain confidence in the agency charged with the care of our state’s troubled youth,” stated OPEA in a second letter to the Attorney General on Friday. “We hope you will immediately take the steps necessary to stop the contract so this issue can be thoroughly investigated.”

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