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Wildlife department audit uncovers suspicious activity

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Natural habitats and state animals are displayed inside the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters in Oklahoma City. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]
Natural habitats and state animals are displayed inside the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters in Oklahoma City. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]

A state performance audit of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has uncovered suspicious bidding activity in which requisitions prepared by a wildlife department employee frequently resulted in the projects being awarded to a company headed by the employee's brother.

Auditors identified the wildlife department employee involved as Mike Plunkett, senior biologist for the northeast region. They identified his brother as T. Speck Plunkett and said his Muskogee company, JSCO Inc., does business under the name J&S Dozer and Excavation.

The brother's company was paid $358,812.89 for 31 projects over the five-year span, according to the audit that was done by the office of Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd.

"Although we were unable to determine if fraudulent activity had occurred, the issues noted were indicative of abuse," auditors reported. "Fair and equitable bidding may have been circumvented due to inside information being provided to (the brother)."

The audit report and evidence auditors gathered will be forwarded to the Oklahoma attorney general for potential legal action, auditors said.

Efforts to reach the Speck brothers and Wildlife Department Executive Director J.D. Strong for comment Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Several of the bids were done in ways that did not comply with the state competitive bidding act or the department's internal purchasing policies and procedures, auditors said.

Auditors also noted that the company headed by the employee's brother was listed as the preferred vendor on internal requisitions prior to the soliciting bids in a number of cases. The brother's successful bids "exactly matched" the amounts on the internal requisitions in multiple instances, auditors said.

"These circumstances raise the questions of whether those projects were truly competitively bid or if the successful bidder had inside knowledge that allowed them to submit winning bids," auditors stated.

The brother's company consistently bid significantly less than the other bidders, auditors said.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is responsible for managing Oklahoma's wildlife resources on public and private lands. Wildlife Division personnel oversee activities in about 64 wildlife management areas covering more than 1.5 million acres statewide, the audit report said.

The agency receives no state appropriations, but instead relies on revenue from hunting and fishing license sales and other revenue sources like donations and agriculture and oil leases. The agency took in about $65.8 million in revenue in fiscal year 2018, auditors said.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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