Read The Frontier’s initial reporting on the Swadley’s scandal here.

A multicounty grand jury has indicted three current and former Swadley’s restaurant group executives on felony charges of conspiracy to defraud the state in connection with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen’s failed multi-million dollar overhaul of restaurants at Oklahoma state parks.

Swadley’s President Ronald Brent Swadley, former Executive Vice President Curtis Ray Breuklander and Chief Operating Officer Timothy Raymond Hooper were indicted Thursday on five counts of false or fraudulent claims against the state and one count of conspiracy to defraud the state.

Each of the false or fraudulent claims against the state charges carry a penalty of up to 2 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000, while the conspiracy charge has a penalty of up to $25,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is prosecuting the case.

“We absolutely deny any wrongdoing,” said Swadley’s attorney Mack Martin in a statement to The Frontier. “We are going to rely on 12 people to make the right decision. Swadley’s stepped up to the plate for Oklahoma when no one else in the state would.”

Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen won a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation to rebrand and operate restaurants at state parks in 2020. Costs for the project soon swelled to $16.7 million as the state paid the company for renovations, management fees and to cover financial losses. 

The indictment accuses Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen of maintaining two separate sets of invoices for its work on restaurants at state parks. One set contained the bills for expenses the company paid for, while a second set included fraudulent charges it billed to the Tourism Department. The indictment also alleges Swadley’s directed a restaurant equipment supplier to increase the amounts it billed the restaurant and “rebate” the extra money back to Swadley’s. The restaurant company then submitted the overpriced bill to the state for reimbursement.

The Frontier first reported in 2022 on extra fees Swadley’s charged the state on equipment and renovation costs. The company charged the Tourism Department as much as an additional 30% markup on some invoices. In one instance The Frontier found, Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen charged the Tourism Department for two used barbecue smokers at $51,346 each. But the manufacturer priced the same smokers new at just $22,700. The indictment alleges Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen asked the restaurant equipment supplier to create phony invoices for two used smokers, marking up the price by 30%.

The Tourism Department ended its contract with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen after financial irregularities came to light, forcing the restaurants to close in April 2022. The agency also sued the restaurant group for breach of contract.

Brent Swadley. Courtesy

The indictment comes less than a week after attorneys for the restaurant group filed a counterclaim against the state, alleging the Tourism Department owes it $2.3 million in unpaid invoices and to cover operating losses. Swadley’s claims in a court filing that the Tourism Department sued the company in an effort to distract the public from the state’s own financial mismanagement of the project.  

In 2022, Breuklander told The Frontier he helped negotiate the deal between the Department of Tourism’s then-deputy director, Gino DeMarco and Swadley’s. Emails show DeMarco tried to ensure Swadley’s would pay no rent at the state parks and the state would subsidize many of its employees.

The final contract required the state to pay the company management fees, cover financial losses and limit royalty fees to the state until the restaurants reached a certain level of profitability.

Breuklander also blamed much of the fiasco on Brent Swadley, telling The Frontier  in 2022 that  “I obviously am more concerned about how shady and fraudulent Brent Swadley was in the entire process. Especially when the construction started.”

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Breuklander has been in a protracted legal battle with Swadley’s since his departure from the company in 2021. Swadley’s accused Breuklander of stealing company secrets when he departed and then trying to extort the company for $1.5 million. Breuklander counter-sued Swadley’s, claiming the company defamed him.

In a statement to The Frontier, The Swadley family accused the state of not answering its  questions about how the Tourism Department handled the situation. The family claims the restaurant company attempted to repay some of the money, but was rebuffed by the state. 

“This is sadly a legal dispute that keeps escalating,” the statement read. “The question remains why the state will not answer the 12 questions we submitted to them. Please remember, there are always two sides to every story – especially a story as politicized as this.  As the Attorney General’s Office stated: ‘Every individual indicted is presumed innocent unless and until convicted in a court of law.’ We hope someday all the political endgames will cease in this devastating ordeal to my family and business. We sincerely ask for your prayers in this David vs Goliath battle and thank you for continuing to show your support.”

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