OKC bombing survivors group objects to audit firm
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Friday, November 30, 2012
11/30/12 at 7:52 AM
Complete coverage: Read past stories and view documents related to the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund.
Related story: Editorial: Murrah fund: Audit plan moving forward.
OKLAHOMA CITY - A group representing survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing said Thursday that it believes the way an audit of a donation fund has been handled lacks transparency and input from those raising concerns.
"While I believe an independent audit is necessary, it's difficult to feel comfortable with a selection made behind closed doors," said Holly Sweet, a spokeswoman for a group called the Survivor Tree Committee.
Sweet and Gloria Chipman, whose husband died in the April 19, 1995, bombing, said they also believe that a possible conflict of interest exists with an executive of the firm chosen to audit the fund.
The nonprofit Oklahoma City Community Foundation said Wednesday that it had chosen BKD LLP to conduct an investigative audit of the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund.
The foundation oversees the fund containing about $10 million in remaining donations and earnings intended to help survivors of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.
The foundation agreed to an investigative audit after some survivors told the Tulsa World they had concerns about the handling of the fund.
Allegations that survivors' requests for funding were improperly denied are either errors or misunderstandings, the foundation has said.
Todd Lisle, a member of the auditing firm's governing board, is listed in the Oklahoma City Community Foundation's 2012 annual report as a donor to permanent endowment funds it oversees.
The foundation oversees more than 1,200 funds with a combined value of more than $630 million.
Lisle was named Nov. 1 to BKD's governing board, according to a news release on the company's website. He is also the auditing company's managing partner in Oklahoma, where BKD has three offices.
Lisle, of Oklahoma City, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The 11-member governing board, which includes the firm's CEO, "sets strategic goals and oversees firmwide initiatives and policymaking," the release states. BKD is based in Springfield, Mo. and has operations in 12 states.
Cathy Nestlen, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said Lisle and his wife made one donation in 2008 to an endowment fund benefitting Edmond Public Schools.
"That was the first and only gift from the couple. Mr. Lisle, who is a managing partner of BKD's Oklahoma offices, will not be involved in the investigative review of the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund. BKD will send its forensic investigation services staff from the firm's offices in other states," she said in an email.
Sweet said the group reiterates its request that state officials seek attorney Kenneth Feinberg's intervention in the matter. Feinberg has led survivor compensation funds following the 9/11 attacks, BP oil spill, Virginia Tech campus shootings and Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings.
"In our opinion Kenneth Feinberg is in a position to conduct an objective and thorough audit of the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund," Sweet said in an email. "When considering Mr. Feinberg offers his unique skill set and vast experience pro bono, it's puzzling that OCCF has announced the choice of BKD as an alternative to calling in Mr. Feinberg. BKD is a firm with ties to OCCF, hand picked by OCCF, to audit OCCF, and therefore cannot clear their name."
Nestlen said BKD was one of three auditing firms considered by the foundation's audit committee and the other two ultimately declined to take part in the audit. She said the committee was able to confirm that BKD did not have any conflict or appearance of conflict.
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306