Oklahoma Officials Zero In On Fraud, Abuse

Wednesday, June 24th 2009, 7:46 am
By: News On 6

By Charles Bassett, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Our state is getting hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus money among several different departments. Now, three of those biggest agencies have extra eyes watching them to ensure the money isn't mishandled.

The state is getting $2.6 billion in stimulus money. Much of that money is already coming in and there's always the potential for it to end up in the wrong hands.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has received more than $187 million in federal stimulus money.

"We are using it to buy healthcare services for many of the people who are across the state who are qualified for Medicaid through Sooner Care or even Insure Oklahoma," Nico Gomez with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority said.

The agency has its own in-house auditors, but now outside auditors are in contact with the agency trying to make sure every dollar is going to the clients who need it.

"Having additional integrity procedures or transparency is nothing new to us," Gomez said. "It's something we're very used to and we welcome it because we want to be accountable."

They're not the only agency being watched but one of the largest in the state getting federal stimulus money, along with the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation.

The U.S. Attorney's Office, along with the FBI, and the State Auditor's Office have teamed together to try to prevent fraud with the $2.6 billion in stimulus money.

"With such unprecedented levels of funding comes understandably tremendous risks for fraud, for abuse and for waste of those monies if we're not careful," John C. Richter, U.S. Attorney Western District of Oklahoma, said.

They point to Hurricane Katrina as a prime example of money intended for those who need it most, being misused.

So they've developed a toll free hotline to help report abuse.

"With those billions of dollars in stimulus funding, even a small percentage of fraud would result in substantial taxpayer losses," David O'Meilia, U.S. Attorney Northern District of Oklahoma, said.

The Healthcare Authority has seen a six percent rise in clients this year, so the extra funding was needed and they don't mind the oversight.

"It's something we welcome because we want to make sure it's being spent correctly," Gomez said.

As for smaller municipalities getting stimulus money, they're relying on people calling the fraud hotline to report abuse.

Burrage says his office has dispatched auditors from his office to those agencies as well as others to track the federal money as it is spent in an effort to prevent fraud and waste.

The stimulus fraud hotline number is 1-877-259-7337.

Oklahoma Recovery and Reinvestment web site