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Committee Chairs Respond To Media Campaign, Cite Testimony Showing Serious Problems With Plane Purchase

Responding to an avalanche of orchestrated media efforts by Republicans and others who are calling for a premature conclusion of the airplane inquiry, legislative leaders and the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on State Aircraft today reiterated their plan to proceed as scheduled. Representative Bill Settle and Senator Billy Mickle cited evidence uncovered by testimony to date indicating serious problems with the airplane purchase.

"Only two witnesses have appeared before the committee and their testimony alone has raised some very serious concerns. I think it's ludicrous to suggest we end this inquiry just as it's beginning to shed light on the internal workings of the airplane purchase," said Representative Settle.

In recent days, Republican committee members, the State Republican Party and Tulsair attorneys have held numerous news conferences, issued multiple press releases and given a variety of media interviews in an effort to silence the committee before it uncovers any more controversial findings related to Governor Keating's airplane.

"I think the public would be better served if everyone would cooperate with this inquiry, instead of trying to sidetrack it before the facts are uncovered," said Senator Mickle.

The Republican calls for an end to the inquiry intensified after Department of Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks and Lieutenant Dennis Dutsch contradicted each other in sworn testimony. Dutsch, who is employed by DPS as a pilot and serves as Governor Keating's Chief of Security, gave one account on his first day of testimony then changed his story the following day to conform with Ricks' testimony. Under questioning from the committee's special counsel, Dutsch admitted he decided to revise his account after meeting with the commissioner and DPS attorney Michelle Day the previous evening. Dutsch's revised version was also in conflict with sworn interviews he gave to the state auditor.

"When you have these two people telling different stories, it raises some legitimate questions. I think it's the committee's job to try and answer those questions," said Representative Settle.

Other key findings uncovered by committee documents and testimony to date include:

  • Dutsch admitted Tulsair helped draw bid specifications on a contract it was eventually awarded. Tulsair later signed a "non-collusion affidavit," stating there was no improper contact between the vendor and the state;

  • Dutsch revealed he had destroyed notes related to the purchase before the contract was awarded on June 20th, 1996;

  • Ricks admitted it "would be a crime" if Tulsair was given information on bid prices. Tulsair lowered its bid by $25,000 on the final day, allowing it to edge a competitor by a few thousand dollars;

  • Ricks admitted the formal bidding period was only 7 days long and confirmed that an Internet ad only ran the weekend before the bid period ended on Monday. Tulsair had been working on its bid for several months before other vendors were given the 7 days to produce competing proposals;

  • Ricks conceded Dutsch may have misled members of the Legislative Bond Oversight Commission on June 10th, 1996 when he told them the Department of Public Safety had no specific plane in mind and was soliciting bids;

  • Four days after the committee issued subpoenas for Tulsair records, Ricks revealed that Cathy Keating had met with Hillary Clark on April 23, 1996 to pick out interior airplane colors. Previously, Ricks had said the first family had no involvement in the purchase;

  • Although Ricks has consistently stated Governor Keating was not involved in the purchase, he testified that he first learned of the Cathy Keating/Hillary Clark meeting when Keating Chief of Staff Ken Lackey produced a memo on the subject just last month;

  • Tulsair scheduled its airplane to be repainted with the state flag and serial numbers before the bid proposal even went out;

  • Tulsair completely refurbished the plane interior with input from Cathy Keating before the bid proposal went out.

The legislative leaders who initiated the inquiry also reiterated their desire that the process continue to move forward. House Speaker Loyd Benson and Senate President Pro Tempore created the committee in January to gather information and draft new aircraft policy.

"This committee was created to look into all the facts related to the use and purchase of state aircraft so that any appropriate policy changes could be developed. They still have a long way to go before their work is completed," said Speaker Benson.

"Pulling the plug on the aircraft committee at this point would be totally inappropriate. It's just uncovered what could be the tip of a very large iceberg. We just won't know for certain until we've heard the whole story," said Senator Stratton Taylor

The committee is expected to reconvene next week to continue hearing testimony from Lieutenant Dennis Dutsch.

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