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AM NewsBrief: Jan. 18, 2023

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This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

EPIC update

The state Auditor and Inspector says the amount of money stolen by Epic Charter School’s co-founders and former CFO is millions of dollars more than what was first thought.

In a budget hearing last week in front of a state Senate subcommittee, state Auditor Cindy Byrd said over $30 million had been misused, but that number will QUOTE “drastically increase,” based on discussion with prosecutors and federal agencies.

The co-founders, Ben Harris and David Chaney, and former CFO Josh Brock were charged last year with felony racketeering and embezzlement, among other fraud-related charges. OSBI found the trio had illegally pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars and spent money intended for students on personal expenses and political donations.

Newly elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced last week his office would reassume control of the Epic case. And with the announcement the IRS had launched its own Epic investigation, a federal case may be on the horizon.

Stitt creates Task Force to address workforce challenges

Gov. Kevin Stitt has created a Task Force to address state workforce challenges. Stitt signed an executive order Tuesday to form the Workforce Transformation Task Force. The group will make recommendations on how the state can consolidate its workforce development practices in order to have a greater impact. In the order, Stitt said Oklahoma’s workforce delivery system suffers from responsibilities and funding being split across several state agencies. He wants the task force to create a roadmap for one state entity to take charge on all workforce development issues. The task force will submit a report detailing its recommendations by April 15.

OKC women's correctional facility closing this week

A facility for female inmates nearing the end of their sentences is closing this week.

The Oklahoman reports The Oklahoma City Community Corrections Center will close on January 20. The inmates will be moved to similar minimum-security units at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Facility in Taft.

Josh Ward, the Department of Corrections’ chief of communications, says the decision to close the old center was based on what would be high infrastructure repair costs. He also says the inmates will continue to have access to education and employment resources.

The old center had been used as a transitional facility for female inmates finishing their prison sentences since 2017 but was used by the DOC since the 1970s

Oklahoma Gas and Electric to raise rates again

OG&E customers are getting another increase on their monthly bill. The utility company announced beginning Jan 1, 2023, customers will see an increase to the fuel charge on their bill of 4.8%, or approximately $5.46 per month for the average residential customer. In a note to customers, OG&E says the change is needed to collect fuel costs incurred through December 2022. The costs will be collected over a 21-month period. Just two months ago, OG&E announced that customers would see a nearly $6 monthly increase to their bills to recover costs for a fuel balance. Customers will continue to see that increase until March 2024.

Bunky Echo-Hawk hearing

A criminal case against a high profile Native artist in Oklahoma is moving forward after a district court judge refused to dismiss charges against him.

Walter "Bunky" Echo-Hawk Jr. appeared in Pawnee County court along with his attorney and father, Walter Echo-Hawk Sr. who is the current President of the Pawnee nation.

Echo-Hawk Jr.'s attorney asked a judge to dismiss charges of lewd or indecent acts towards a child under the age of sixteen and possession of juvenile pornagraphy, charges that could land him in prison for 20 years. The judge declined and Echo-Hawk Jr.'s next court date is set for February 3rd.

More than a dozen supporters, including Olivia Gray, were at the courthouse to back his accuser.

"The more people that can come and show support for this child victim the better, this is not only horrific in terms of what happened to a kid but it's also a very politically charged trial because of the prominence of the Echo-Hawk family."

Echo-Hawk Jr. maintains his innocence and denies accessing child pornography. Echo-Hawk Jr. was arrested last year after a minor child reported him to authorities for inappropriately touching them.

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