Attorney For Ex Skiatook School Superintendent Calls Spending Scandal An Honest Mistake

Tuesday, June 29th 2010, 2:20 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

SKIATOOK, OK -- The former superintendent of Skiatook Schools calls the criminal charges against him unjustified.

Gary Johnson bonded out of jail Tuesday, after he was arrested on embezzlement and bribery charges. 

Read the indictments.

His attorney says this was all an honest mistake. But the grand jury says there was nothing honest about the mistake that robbed Skiatook schools of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Two years ago, Gary Johnson was at the helm of Skiatook Schools worrying about kids sickened with the flu.

"The indictment names Gary Johnson in a charge of officers receiving bribes," said Tim Harris, Tulsa County District Attorney.

Now he's a former superintendent facing criminal charges and worrying about his future.

"Its fair to say in a lot of ways he's been devastated," said Rob Nigh, Johnson's Attorney.

Johnson resigned last month, after a state audit revealed the school district wasted more than half a million dollars on over-priced goods and services.

"No longer be able to work in Skiatook Public Schools was tremendously disappointing to him," Nigh said. "But then to face criminal allegations in addition to that is in some way overwhelming."

A grand jury investigation led to two criminal indictments; one accuses Johnson of faking documents to cover up high priced invoices and the other alleges he took money to give preferential treatment to an Oklahoma City businessman, Rick Enos.

Enos runs E & E Sales and Austin Security. Both companies sold custodial supplies and security equipment to Skiatook Schools at a premium.

For example, state auditors found that Skiatook bought three cases of 12 mop heads for about $540. But auditors say delivery tickets show just three mop heads, not three cases, were delivered.

Read the audit report.

So the district ended up paying almost $180 for each mop.

"There are legitimate questions about whether or not that happened and also the circumstances under which it could have occurred," Nigh said. "And there is certainly question about whether they were three mops or three cases of mops."

Nigh says Johnson accepted responsibility because he was in charge of the school district when the overspending took place. But he says it was an error, not a crime.

"He knows that there's a difference between an honest mistake or honest mistakes and criminal intent," Nigh said. "And he trusts that the process will ultimately work."

Gary Johnson's attorney says his client took action solve the problems mentioned in the audit as soon as they were brought to his attention.

Tim Harris, Tulsa County District Attorney, says the criminal charges and the accusation for removal should be a wakeup call to all school administrations and school boards.

"Paying attention to how their money is being spent, taxpayer money being spent on behalf of the children, and so from that point of view, it's always a good idea to look at how you're doing business," said Harris.

6/29/10 Related Story: Grand Jury Calls For Removal of Skiatook School Board President

6/28/2010 Related story: Grand Jury Report Blasts Leadership, Calls For Criminal Charges At Skiatook Schools

State Auditor Steve Burrage Praises Skiatook School Patrons, Grand Jury

State Auditor Steve Burrage praised the work of the Tulsa County Grand Jury and Skiatook school patrons over a probe into gross overspending at Skiatook Public Schools that resulted in the arrest of former Superintendent Dr. Gary Johnson on two indictments alleging bribery of a public official and embezzlement.

"I'm impressed by the dedication and apparent thoroughness of the Tulsa County Grand Jury to accomplish its work in the short time allotted and I want to offer my appreciation to the Skiatook school patrons who were determined to get the grand jury empanelled," Burrage said. "The people of Oklahoma deserve to know why almost 800,000 of their tax dollars were squandered and whether anyone besides Rick Enos may have benefited from this blatant abuse of taxpayer funds."

Former Skiatook Superintendent Dr. Gary Johnson's use of a middleman to purchase janitorial supplies and security systems was at the center of an investigative audit released by the State Auditor last February. The audit revealed that Enos, of E&E Sales and Austin Security, did not maintain inventory and was over-charging the Skiatook school district as much as 500 percent over typical retail prices.

"I'm especially grateful the grand jury echoed the message I've been delivering across the state to school board members and others in positions of governance," Burrage said. "Elected and appointed officials are responsible for the financial health of the institution they serve. They should read the annual financial audit and ask questions. It's the Board that's responsible for ensuring adequate systems of checks and balances are in place to process and protect financial transactions."

In its report, the panel recommended the board "exercise oversight regarding purchases" and expressed its concern that the Skiatook School Board, administration and school patrons "may not be adequately aware of the school district's indebtedness."

"Look, for me it's simple, know what you're authorizing, document every step, reconcile the books, report errors, put your policies into practice, and segregate the authority in the process," Burrage said. "We know how to keep fraud, waste and abuse from getting out of hand and a board's first act should be to eliminate the opportunity for it to happen."

Burrage has released three investigative audits of Oklahoma school districts this year and in each report he pointed to a lack of oversight by the district's board and too much authority given to a single individual to perform financial transactions. The release of the Broken Arrow and Boynton School District audits are pending.