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State lawmakers to investigate juvenile agency

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The contracting procedures of a state agency that was criticized in a state audit that uncovered evidence of fraud will be investigated by lawmakers, officials said Wednesday.

The chairmen of legislative panels that write the budget for the Office of Juvenile Affairs said they will meet with state Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan next week to discuss the audit's findings.

Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, said the audit exposed ``some serious problems'' that need to be addressed. Peters chairs a House budget panel and Sen. Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City, chairs a panel in the Senate.

The audit, made public Tuesday, cited instances where private, nonprofit agencies contracting with OJA duplicated services, overbilled for services or received questionable reimbursements.

The report said auditors found an ``inconceivable lack of monitoring'' by the OJA of contracts to agencies of the private Oklahoma Association of Youth Services. It cited irregularities involving $1.1 million and questioned whether $20 million provided to OAYS agencies ever filtered down to services for troubled teens.

In a statement, OAYS objected to what it said was ``inflammatory language'' in the audit and said suggestions of criminal behavior and fraud damaged the reputations of youth services providers.

``It appears that the state auditor does not fully understand the function and role of designated youth services agencies as a statewide system,'' the statement said.

In a sampling of 100 of 600 contracts between the OJA and OAYS, auditors found that one private agency in Osage County got payments for two years for a program that did not exist and one OAYS director was paid $10,000 in bonuses that may have gone for a political contribution.

But OAYS said of more than $7.4 million in contracts that were monitored, only $48,000, less than 1 percent of audited contracts, was actually subject to question. The group provided services to 38,000 people in 2003, it said.

OJA receives $93 million in state revenue each year and is the 12th-largest agency in the state.
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