Brent Swadley indicted
From left: Tim Hooper, Brent Swadley and Curtis Breuklander were indicted by the Oklahoma multi-county grand jury Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, for an alleged conspiracy to defraud the state Tourism and Recreation Department. (NonDoc)

Oklahoma’s multi-county grand jury issued a six-count felony indictment of Brent Swadley, Curt Breuklander and Tim Hooper this morning for an alleged conspiracy to inflate invoices to the Tourism and Recreation Department and defraud the state while making millions of dollars worth of renovations at state park restaurant facilities between 2019 and 2022.

Swadley, Breuklander and Hooper served as president, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Swadley’s companies at the time of the alleged criminal behavior, which Attorney General Gentner Drummond pledged to investigate upon taking office in 2023.

“The indictments issued today contain serious charges and will be prosecuted by my office on behalf of the people of Oklahoma,” said Drummond, whose office administers the multi-county grand jury, a powerful and largely secret law enforcement tool that can bring criminal charges. The grand jury indicted all three men on one count of conspiracy to defraud the state and five counts of making false or fraudulent claims against the state.

Attorney Mack Martin, who represents Brent Swadley, said he and his client “absolutely deny wrongdoing” and hinted at the inevitability of a jury trial.

“We are going to rely on 12 people to make the right decision,” Martin said. “Swadley’s stepped up to the plate for Oklahoma when no one else in the state would.”

According to the seven-page indictment (embedded below), Swadley, Breuklander and Hooper allegedly conspired to “commit one or more of the following overt acts” to defraud the state:

  • Knowingly presenting or causing to be presented false and/or fraudulent invoices from Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen, LLC to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department for payment of public funds;
  • Causing two separate sets of invoice records to be maintained by Swadley’s FBK, with one set containing original invoices received and paid by the company and the other set containing false and/or fraudulent invoices presented to OTRD for payment of public funds;
  • Refusing to provide supporting original invoices received and paid by Swadley’s FBK corresponding to the invoices presented for payment to OTRD, despite demands for that supporting documentation by the state agency;
  • Directing a specific restaurant equipment supplier to create invoices with increased charge amounts for restaurant equipment and providing them to Swadley’s FBK without OTRD’s knowledge;
  • Presenting or causing to be presented to OTRD for payment of public funds Swadley’s FBK invoices with the increased invoices from the supplier attached as support;
  • Directing a specific restaurant equipment supplier to accept payment from Swadley’s FBK consistent with the increased invoices and then repay Swadley’s FBK with the overpayment;
  • Accepting the overpayment from the specific restaurant equipment supplier and characterizing the overpayment as a “rebate”;
  • Directing the specific restaurant equipment supplier to fabricate an invoice for two used food smokers and supplying that fabricated invoice to Swadley’s FBK;
  • Directing the specific restaurant equipment supplier to increase the fabricated invoice amount for the used smokers by an additional 30 percent and supply that invoice to Swadley’s FBK;
  • Presenting or causing to be presented to OTRD for payment of public funds a Swadley’s FBK invoice for the used smokers with the fabricated invoice from the supplier attached as support.

Swadley, Hooper and Breuklander were each called a witnesses before the grand jury. The other 15 witnesses included former OTRD director Jerry Winchester, former OTRD deputy director Gino DeMarco and former Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency director Mike Jackson, a former state lawmaker whose office was instrumental in analyzing the contractor and subcontractor invoices submitted by Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen to the state.

OTRD terminated its contract with Swadley’s FBK in April 2022 after the fraudulent invoicing allegations surfaced. Days later, Winchester — who had a Swadley’s hamburger named for himself after authorizing the company’s state contract — resigned.

Facing criticism for the barbecue brouhaha during their 2022 reelection campaigns, Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell announced that state attorneys were suing Swadley’s to recover the allegedly inflated reimbursements. Swadley’s attorneys responded with counterclaims alleging the state had improperly terminated their contract and owed the company millions of dollars.

The civil litigation has lingered for nearly two years, with Swadley’s attorneys filing a motion for summary judgment Monday as Stitt delivered his 2024 State of the State address. Swadley’s attorneys attached 480 pages of exhibits to their motion asking Oklahoma County District Judge Sheila Stinson to rule in the company’s favor.

Among the exhibits is an affidavit from Hooper and text messages between Swadley and Winchester.

“During [a] meeting, Swadley’s FBK discussed with (the Department of) Tourism giving credits for invoices related to the Lake Murray location that had been mistakenly billed twice,” Hooper wrote in his affidavit for the civil case. “Additionally, Swadley’s FBK offered Tourism credits for the rebates received related to the Quartz Mountain and Robbers Cave locations. Swadley’s FBK asked if Tourism wanted credit memos, checks, or ACH payments. Katherine Nichols responded that Swadley’s FBK did not need to worry about the credits at that time and that Tourism would figure out the credits when Tourism finished its inventory audit process.”

While Swadley and Hooper remain with the restaurant company, Breuklander left in 2021 and was sued in October of that year defamation, misappropriation of trade secrets and other claims by a separate Swadley’s company: Swadley’s Emergency Relief Team. In 2022, Breuklander reopened the Grill on the Hill, a storied diner in Oklahoma City’s Capitol Hill area.

In late August 2022, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents served a search warrant on Breuklander. In the company’s civil litigations filings, Swadley’s alleged that Breuklander was “at all times in charge” of the operations of Foggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants.

Beyond Swadley, Breuklander and Hooper, the witnesses noted on the indictment are:

  • Todd Spurlock, an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent;
  • Jerry Winchester, a former director of OTRD;
  • Kristina Marek, a former director of state parks for OTRD;
  • Katherine Nichols, a former executive with OTRD;
  • Richard Keithley, a former park manager at Murray State Park;
  • Daryl Beebe, an agent with the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal;
  • Mike Jackson, a former director of LOFT;
  • Melissa Capps, director of the performance audit division of the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office;
  • Kayci Thomas, a lead bookkeeper at Swadley’s;
  • Tori Washington, an accounts payable specialist for Abacus System Solutions, a hospitality-focused accounting and human resources company that Swadley’s BBQ contracted with for third-party accounting work;
  • Derek Spomer, a senior controller for Abacus System Solutions;
  • Michael McWhorter, the president of Quality Foods Equipment;
  • Michael Cooley, identity unclear;
  • John Jones, identity unclear.

Lisa Liebl, a publicist for Brent Swadley’s family, released a statement that referenced her client’s past litigation with Breuklander.

“This is sadly a legal dispute that keeps escalating. 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,” Liebl said. “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.”

Background on the Swadley’s saga

Swadley's subcontractor
Brent Swadley gives a speech about the history of his restaurant business during a conference in March 2018. (Screenshot)

Brent Swadley has offered little public comment since allegations surfaced against him and his company. In April 2022, he told NonDoc that his company had been managing subcontractors for 25 years and that what unfolded was “standard stuff.”

“It’ll all come out. We didn’t do anything wrong. It will all come out with the investigation and all this stuff,” Swadley said. “We’re not worried or concerned.”

As outlined in testimony Winchester gave before a legislative committee and in legal filings from Swadley’s, the company became the operator of six Foggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants at Oklahoma state parks after other potential operators declined to move forward with OTRD’s proposal to renovate and reopen the facilities.

The company was paid about $17 million from 2020 to 2022 to construct and renovate the restaurants that would serve burgers and other items to park visitors. Revisions in the contract also reimbursed Swadley’s for operating losses. State and company officials said the restaurants had operated at losses in the years prior to the Swadley’s contract.

But by late 2021, Swadley’s contract with the state had drawn attention within the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. Emails had been sent to OTRD officials, and eventually State Auditor Cindy Byrd was requested by then-Oklahoma County District Attorney to perform an investigative audit.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives formed a special committee to investigate Swadley’s and its contract with the state, although by that point the percolating criminal investigation limited the House committee’s usefulness.

For years, Swadley’s has operated a successful barbecue business with eight locations, mostly in central Oklahoma. Discussing his success, Brent Swadley has bragged about his company’s humble and non-traditional beginnings, which he said included disregarding municipal codes.

“My mom and dad taught me something years ago: Fake it ’til you make it. It’s OK,” Swadley told attendees of a Navigate Conference in 2018. “I bootlegged barbecue. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if I followed by the rules and satisfied all the permits and all the legalities and stuff out there. Sometimes you’ve just got to go out there and do it and don’t worry about it.”

A LOFT report found plenty of problems with spending by Swadley’s as the company developed its Foggy Bottom Kitchen concept on the state’s dime, including purchases of a $12,000 cheese melter and two meat smokers for $125,000. LOFT staff said they were unable to find a comparable smoker for more than $25,000. Jackson, the agency’s director at the time, said at a May 2022 hearing that his staff members quickly determined that costs for some items Swadley’s had invoiced were dramatically inflated.

“In one situation, we found there was a cheese melter that was expensed for $11,600,” Jackson said. “The highest cost cheese melter we could find from the same manufacturer was about $5,500. It was very common within the expenses that were made to do a cursory look in Google, and you could see that every one of those expenses — you couldn’t find anything that was that expensive just on preliminary research.”

Read the indictment against Swadley, Hooper and Breuklander

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