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Bid-Rigging, Sex, and Politicians: Welcome to Oklahoma

A $10 million-a-year contract awarded to the Ada Youth Academy Authority for a new juvenile facility has been put on hold while the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office looks into whether the contract was improperly steered to Ada by an Oklahoma senator.

In December 2010, The Oklahoman reported that Republican state Senator Harry Coates may have used his influence to steer the contract to Ada. Coates, 60, has admitted to having an affair with Haley Atwood, a 29-year-old lobbyist working for Ada.

The AG's office decided to open an investigation after the story in The Oklahoman and a subsequent meeting with the Senate Pro Tem, Brian Bingman.

"They presented us with some paperwork that we had not previously seen," said Charlie Price, a spokesperson for the AG's office.

Coates says he welcomes the investigation because "there were no shenanigans."
Atwood similarly claims no wrongdoing. "There was hard work," said Atwood. "There's nothing underhanded. The award was made, and some of the other groups that have cried foul had the same opportunity that we did. We just put together a better proposal."
Scott Barger, Deputy Director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association disagrees. "It looks to me like you have a state senator and a lobbyist certainly in a relationship outside the marital bounds that are co-working on a project that had $27 million implications," said Barger.

Brian Costello, COO and president of Avalon Correctional Services, applauded the decision to halt the contract.

"The only solution in my mind is, they have to start from scratch," Costello said. "Up to this point it has not been an open and fair process, in my opinion." Avalon was one of five bidders seeking to build the new facility.

The new juvenile facility is needed to replace the dilapidated L.E. Rader Center is Sand Springs, Oklahoma.


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