Monday, April 25, 2016

Rep. Christian/DPS Fight Heats Up

Former Trooper and current Legislator, Mike Christian
Rep. Christian/DPS Fight Heats Up

  They say that politics makes strange bed fellows and how true that is.  We are seeing conservatives pairing up with the corrupt Oklahoma County D.A. to go after Democrat John Whetsel and we also saw conservative legislators reaching out in order to stop illegal lobbying and waste of tax money by the state troopers association.
 Part of the problem is that A.G. Scott Pruitt is refusing to do his job while brown nosing the Fallin administration.  And even though Rep. Christian is a retired state trooper he and the trooper association have not seen eye to eye on many issues.
  Below is the letter that Rep. Mike Christian sent to Oklahoma County D.A. David Prater:
Attorney General Scott Pruitt
District Attorney Prater:
As Chairman of the Public Safety Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives it is among my responsibilities to provide oversight for the operation of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS). In that capacity, for the last two years I have tried unsuccessfully to encourage DPS leadership to refrain from violating Oklahoma law. Despite repeated requests, orders, and admonitions by my colleagues and me, the leadership of DPS continues to hold themselves above the law. Accordingly, I am hereby forwarding my evidence of criminal wrong doing to your agency for investigation and prosecution, as no other lesser alternative has proven to have any effect.
The allegations surround violations of O.S. §, 1451 A.5, embezzlement of appropriated money. The primary violators of the above statute were Commissioner Mike Thompson, Chief Ricky Adams of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and State Trooper Keith Barenberg, also of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and president of the Oklahoma State Trooper's Association, [OSTA], Gary James attorney for the OSTA, former Secretary of State Glen Coffee, Denise Northrup, Governor Mary Fallin's Chief of Staff, and Steve Mullins, former General Counsel for Governor Mary Fallin.
The alleged violation occurred on and since the summer of 2013, when the above individuals wrongfully conspired to use taxpayers appropriated dollars to pay Trooper Barenberg to lobby for a private organization, the Oklahoma State Trooper's Association. Further, the above individuals are alleged to have wrongfully conspired to use a significant amount of taxpayer's appropriated funds to support the activities of the OSTA. None of the funds in question were appropriated for those purposes and each of the allegations, if true, represent not only a severe deviation from how every other employee's association and agency in Oklahoma operate, but also an embezzlement of money appropriated by law for a purpose other than the object of the appropriation.
According to former Chief of the Highway Patrol Kerry Pettingil, during the fall of 2013 Trooper Barenberg and/or the OSTA threatened a federal lawsuit against the state due to his assignment which prevented Barenburg from performing his OSTA jobs while he was on duty. The OSTA also saw this as an opportunity to get Barenburg assigned as a liaison to the Capitol.
Chief Pettingil disclosed that there was a meeting held at the Governor's office to resolve the lawsuit. Barenberg was represented by OSTA attorney Gary James, OSTA lobbyist Bruce Robertson, and former Secretary of State Glen Coffee. Commissioner Thompson, DPS General Counsel Steve Krise, former general counsel to the Governor Steve Mullins, and the Governor's Chief of staff Denise Northrup also attended the meeting.
According to Chief Pettingil, DPS General Counsel Steve Krise returned from the meeting in dismay.
Krise disclosed to Pettingil that, at the above meeting, Coffee convinced Northrup to assign Barenberg to the turnpike and also to be a liaison for the OSTA/DPS while on DPS payroll in exchange for having Barenberg not file a lawsuit.
OHP trooper caught on film, choking a paramedic
for allegedly giving him "the finger".
At the request of several troopers, Senator Ralph Shortey and I were in touch with Chief Pettingil during this period of time. Pettingil disclosed to Shortey and I that Commissioner Thompson ordered him to transfer Trooper Barenburg as per the above meeting. Chief Pettingil said he refused to cooperate with the arrangement because he wouldn't be involved in criminal or unethical conduct.
Chief Pettingil stated that due to his resistance to allow Barenburg to lobby for OSTA, the OSTA had convinced Mullins, Northrup, and Thompson to remove Pettingil as Chief of the OHP. To his credit, Chief Pettingil stated, "I will not sacrifice my personal integrity," and retired.
Subsequently, Commissioner Thompson replaced Chief Pettingil with Ricky Adams as Chief of the Highway Patrol, who then ordered the assignment of Barenburg to the liaison position. Since that time, Commissioner Thompson, Chief Adams, and the Governor's staff have allowed Barenburg to lobby on behalf of the OSTA during legislative session while being paid with state appropriated dollars as an employee of DPS.
We have several independent sources of information that corroborate Chief Pettingil's allegations of the meeting and the arrangement. First, as almost anyone that has spent any time at the capitol can attest, Trooper Barenberg has been regularly lobbying members of the House and the Senate on behalf of the OSTA since the 2014 session. Although Barenberg has never registered as either a lobbyist or liaison with the Ethics Commission, he has behaved as one since that time.
Moreover, I am in receipt of the September 4, 2013 Notes of the OSTA meeting. Those notes state as follow:
He [Commissioner Thompson] spoke about a meeting with the Governor, Gary James, Bruce Robertson and Glen Coffee. The Commissioner stated that he was frustrated with the lawsuit and that he felt like there wasn't enough discussion prior to the filing of the lawsuit. He said that he thought that the six month special assignment as legislative liaison that Keith had been put in would suffice. When asked why Keith was transferred out of the Bomb Squad, no answer.
Gary James was present and said that after the meeting at the Governor's office and with the recent transfer of Keith Barenberg to a turnpike position, that we would like to move forward and make a concentrated effort to work together. There is a resolution to the lawsuit that was filed last month.
The above information makes it abundantly clear that Commissioner Thompson and Chief Adams have willfully and knowingly used funds appropriated for the Highway Patrol to instead pay Trooper Barenberg to lobby on behalf of the OSTA, a private organization.
The above fact has not gone unnoticed by me, several of my colleagues, members of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 219 which represents state law enforcement, as well as, agents from the OSBI and OBNDD that have repeatedly complained of the open criminal conduct of the DPS. Multiple times Senator Shortey, others with oversight responsibility, and I have privately demanded that DPS leadership stop paying a trooper to lobby for a private organization on public time. It has been questioned in open committee hearings and also brought to the attention of the Governor's staff on numerous occasions. While no one will defend this blatant violation of law, nothing we have done over the last two years has been effective at stopping the unlawful behavior. The actions of DPS leadership indicate that they know that what they are doing is illegal, but they believe they are above the law. Accordingly, we have no other option but to refer this matter for criminal investigation.
The next allegation of wrongdoing is again related to embezzlement and to the OSTA. Despite repeated warnings, Commissioner Thompson, Chief Adams and the Governor have allowed troopers to attend OSTA meetings each month during times when they are on duty and being paid to enforce the law. They are allowed to drive state automobiles and use state fuel to attend these meetings. Each of these things is forbidden under Oklahoma law and a diversion of funds appropriated for law enforcement activities. An added complication is that many of those troopers work for the size and weights division, and thus are being paid at least partially with federal funds while they attend these private meetings.
Chief Pettingil estimated the taxpayer loss from these activities is well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Like the previous allegation, House and Senate members have repeatedly admonished DPS that they too must follow the law and not use taxpayer's funds or time for private employee association meetings. Further, many troopers have quit the OSTA because they believe this activity is illegal and thus refuse to be associated. Again, nothing we have said or done in our oversight capacity has deterred or prevented DPS from continuing these illegal practices.
As an aside, Senator Shortey and former Representative Blackwell attempted to at least partially bring DPS into compliance by authoring legislation that would allow any public employee to attend employee association meetings once a month. The legislation made it through both chambers of the legislature but astonishingly was vetoed by the Governor. The Governor's reasoning behind vetoing the bill was to prohibit employees of other agencies from receiving the same benefit that members of the OSTA currently enjoy.
At this point I want to pause to make it clear that neither my colleagues nor I place any blame for the above activities on the dedicated front-line troopers that are working honestly on behalf of the state. We applaud their good work, but we do have grave concerns about the leadership of the Department of Public Safety, the OSTA, and their commitment to the rule of law.
DPS has been almost completely unresponsive to our attempts at oversight. For reasons that are not completely understood, the Governor's office doesn't appear to exercise any authority over DPS. (Recently, her staff members have claimed they didn't believe the troopers were in the Governor's chain of command.) They appear paralyzed and this allows DPS to act as a rogue agency.
Accordingly, we are asking that your agency investigate these allegations to determine if there have been any criminal actions, and if so take whatever actions deemed appropriate.
On behalf of the Public Safety Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, I want to thank you for your careful consideration of the above issues. If I can be of any further assistance to you in this matter please don't hesitate to contact me.
Rep. Mike Christian