Claremore Daily Progress

November 15, 2012

Helm, Thacker: Caught and Warned

DA Loring says commissioners broke law with intent, chooses not to file charges

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE — First Assistant District Attorney Ben Loring issued a stern warning to Rogers County Commissioner’s Kirt Thacker and Mike Helm regarding the OSBI’s recent investigation into alleged bid splitting of county contracts.

Loring is choosing not to file charges for the four 2009 purchases involving Time Striping, an Arkansas road striping company due to limitations in the state statute.
If charges were filed and Thacker and Helm were convicted they would be forced to  resign from office.
However, Loring specifically states in his finding he “anticipates further reports from the OSBI on other related alleged misdeeds on your part.” 
The investigation into other issues continues as the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation moves forward.
On October 15 due to the recusal by District Attorney Janice Steidley, the District 13 office was appointed by Attorney General Scott Pruitt, to review various issues regarding alleged violations of applicable law by Helm and Thacker.
Loring issued the following statement to the commissioners on Nov. 8.
“Please be advised that after reviewing the OSBI investigation into this matter, it is my opinion that each of you violated the intent of what is commonly called the “bid splitting” law (19 O. S. § 1501(A)(3)(a)) and there is even some evidence that would indicate that each of you did so with specific and knowing intent.  However, it is also my opinion that the statute that prohibits this type of action is poorly written and it would be difficult to successfully prosecute either of you under the fact situation, as I understand it. Consequently, we are not filing any charges at this time on these four Purchase Orders,” Loring wrote.
The issue deals with purchase orders 003951 dated Nov. 20, 2009, 004318 dated Dec. 7, 2009, 003691 dated Nov. 9, 2009 and 4322 dated Dec. 7, 2009.
Loring is quick to note that the investigation is ongoing and this denial of prosecution “deals with only the issues related to the above listed purchase order.”
Loring continued to issue further warning to the commissioners in the statement.
“My understanding is that you claim, despite having been to training in regard to county purchasing practices, that you did not understand the parameters of the $10,000 limitation on purchases without utilizing the bid process.  
“Clearly you understand that a single purchase cannot exceed $10,000 or you would be in violation of the law.” Loring wrote.
The issue though is about multiple purchases that cumulatively exceed the limit for something that arguably should be considered one purchase.  
The State Auditor and Inspector’s Office takes the position that commissioners cannot expend more than $10,000 in a year for the same item, service, system, etc., without public bidding, or else commissioners are splitting purchase orders and are in violation of the act, according to the statement.
“The statute itself, however, is not quite so clear on defining what a “purchase” actually means.  Here, you each had multiple roads that were worked on for each of the expenditures.  To be safe and to follow the spirit of the law, you should consider these multiple expenditures as one purchase in the future,” Loring wrote.  
Loring concluded stating that the district attorney’s office agreed with the SA&I interpretation adding a warning of  “You are hereby put on notice that if you should have a similar situation present itself again in the future, you should consult with your District Attorney before taking actions like you did in this case.”
Loring concluded by suggesting that legislature “work on cleaning up this law” in order to clarify the intent for prosecution.
“Of course I am pleased with the outcome of this investigation. My sole purpose is to represent the people of Rogers County. I take that responsibility very seriously and will  continue to do so as long as the people wish me to,” Thacker said.
Helm did not respond to the Claremore Progress when contacted for comment.