New Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has wasted no time in making his mark on the state.
Since taking office on Jan 9, Drummond has seized control of investigations into Epic Charter Schools, the Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen scandal, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s use of federal education pandemic relief funds and a probe into allegations of corruption at the Commissioners of the Land Office. After Drummond attended the lethal injection of Scott Eizember on Jan. 12, he has also worked to slow the pace of several upcoming executions planned in the state.
Wearing a blue suit and showing off a couple days of beard growth, Drummond spoke with The Frontier about his first month in office.
“I wouldn’t say so much (that I had) an agenda as much as (I took) necessary steps to right the direction of the state,” Drummond told The Frontier from his office in downtown Tulsa.
On Jan. 31, Drummond dropped a lawsuit Oklahoma filed against ClassWallet, a former state contractor tasked to help distribute $17.3 million in federal relief money intended to help families with educational expenses during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state sued ClassWallet in August, but never served the company with the lawsuit.
ClassWallet managed two aid programs for Oklahoma: The Stay in School grant, which provided up to $6,500 in tuition assistance to parents of private school students affected by the pandemic, and Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, which provided $1,500 grants to low-income families to buy educational materials.
For its services, Oklahoma paid ClassWallet a $650,000 cut of the federal educational relief money.
A joint investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier last year found hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Bridge the Gap program went toward non-educational items such as smartphones, televisions, video game consoles, Christmas trees and barbeque grills, among other items.
Drummond said he researched “the scope of ClassWallet,” particularly on how the company conducts business in other states. He said the other states “used ClassWallet appropriately,” limiting the items parents could buy.
“We in Oklahoma did not do that,” Drummond said. In his announcement that he had dropped the lawsuit, Drummond said he was turning his focus to “state actors and other individuals” who might be responsible for allowing the misuse of public money. ClassWallet had previously asked state officials for guidance on some of the purchases parents were making under their platform, Drummond said.
“And we said it’s the wild west, go for it,” Drummond said. The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch reported last year that Secretary of Education Ryan Walters had told ClassWallet in an email that parents had “blanket approval” for any purchase under their platform.
Drummond said the state was given $39 million to distribute, $8 million of which was distributed by the Oklahoma State Department of Education “with no issue.” As far as the other $31 million, Drummond believes it’s likely the issue could run deeper than previously reported.
“I would offer that the numbers are probably much greater than that where we misapplied, failed to account for, or did not report as required by federal law the use of these $31 million dollars,” he said.
Drummond told The Frontier that he did not want to criticize his predecessor, John O’Connor, but he vowed to be “more engaged” as Attorney General. He noted that the Oklahoma Supreme Court criticized O’Connor for “failing to protect” Oklahomans who are now seeing higher energy bills following Winter Storm Uri 2021.
“I think the distinction is that I am engaged,” Drummond said. “So I think the criticism was not what (O’Connor) did or didn’t do, he failed to protect, he failed to be engaged in the process. And I can be accused of lots of things, but one thing you can’t accuse me of is not being engaged.”