Patrick B. McGuigan
The “sleeper” statewide race for Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector has begun to garner some attention, as detailed information comes to light concerning two of the three Republican candidates in the field.
As the primary election on June 26 nears, one Republican candidate is currently embroiled in a lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court. A second GOP hopeful appeared in 2016, as a Democrat in a state Senate race.
The legal entanglement of the first referenced Republican, Charlie Prater, concerns a debt that he accrued in a failed business venture. In court filings, he claims his original debt agreement was “induced and obtained by the fraud, misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duties of the lender and the managers of the borrower.” (That is quoted from Defendant Charles Prater’s Answer to Amended Petition and Third-Party Petition Point 15 on November 20, 2017).
The barrage of claims and the lawsuit activity in court, along with Prater’s responses, is leading close observers of the race to question Prater’s ability to perform the state Auditor and Inspector’s duties. The job includes which includes ferreting out fraud and identifying government waste.
Charlie Prater is no relation to District Attorney David Prater, chief prosecutor in the same Oklahoma County where Charlie Prater’s lawsuit is being adjudicated. To be clear on this point (where fuzzy answers and campaign chit-chat have fed scattered beliefs there are familial ties among the two men), CapitolBeatOK asked D.A. David about it.
The D.A. replied with restraint, and old-school wit: “”For the record. I’ve never met him. I couldn’t ID him in a one person lineup.”
As for the legal imbroglio, that case centers in part around allegations that Republican Charlie Prater of Edmond defaulted on his portion of a loan, in excess of $1.3 million, that had financed a now-failed business venture.
The lawsuit names Prater (Charlie) as a defendant for defaulting on about $124,000 (his share at time of lawsuit filing), initially owed to Liberty Bank. He had given his personal guarantee to repay that loan.
To sum up the details, Prater was part of a medical practice venture that included doctors and other investors who had originally borrowed over $2 million. The venture failed, leaving ABC Consolidated, who bought the loan from Liberty Bank, holding a note of $1.25 million. Of the 15 or so investors in the venture, only Prater and one other person have since failed to repay their part of the loan.
Adding to the troubles in recent days: In a May 24 hearing, Prater’s attorney was disqualified from the case because of conflict of interest issues.
Meanwhile, Prater has counter-sued 19 defendants in the case claiming he was defrauded by the other partners and by Liberty Bank – even though he admits in a court filing that he signed the promissory note to repay the debt.
Prater has also added to his campaign committee at least $70,000 of his own money, even while failing to make good on his loan agreement for the failed business.
Revelation of the ongoing legal battle over mismanagement and loan default comes hot on the heels of a negative “push poll” accusing the front-runner in the race – Cindy Byrd of Coalgate (presently the Deputy State Auditor) of only recently obtaining her Certified Public Accounting license (actually, she’s been a CPA for almost 15 years), pocketing “tens of thousands of dollars” by driving a personal vehicle instead of a state car (it was a requirement of the agency), and working for more Democratic state Auditors than Republicans (the shift to Republican majorities in statewide offices has only occurred in the last decade).
Prater’s legal and financial troubles will drag on beyond the June 26 primary, which may be part of the plan by someone, somewhere — as he has sought several delays in the case proceedings.
The position of State Auditor is often tagged as a “secondary” race in comparison to the contest for race for Governor or the current brawl unfolding in the Republican Primary for Attorney General.
This status may result in issues among contending candidates passing unnoticed. Yet, the race will fill an important slot in governance of the Sooner State.
It is the one statewide elective office entrusted with explicit (not implied) responsibilities as a watchdog over expenditures of taxpayer dollars. The auditor’s office can — and in recent years often does — expose those who would personally benefit from public office.
The final candidate in the race, John Uzzo, ran in 2016 on the Democratic ticket for a state Senate seat in Tahlequah. He failed to raise enough in that race to file an ethics report, and subsequently lost in the primary.
Now, Uzzo is running as a Republican, but some question his fitness or qualification to serve. He has only been a registered voter since 2013, and not the requisite 10 years required as an elector to hold the office.
The third candidate in the June 26 primary, Byrd, is a long-time CPA, a member of the American Board of Forensic Accountants (OSCPA), and of AICPA.
Her audits have led to the indictment and or required resignations of six public officials who were engaged in waste and/or corruption. Byrd oversaw a team that completed 304 of the 411 recent audits performed by the State Auditor’s Office. Both former Governor Frank Keating and current State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones have endorsed her.
Readers wishing to study all the details of that lawsuit involving Charlie Prater can do so by accessing this online link.