Sisney made two claims involving Dr. Douglas Hudkins. 1) that Air Assurance had done HVAC work at his office building and billed the school district for it; and 2) that Dr. Hudkins had stated publicly that Sisney was “stealing from the district”.
The narrative was that Dr. Hudkins was a friend of Mike Rampey, owner of Air Assurance. As part of the corrupt business practices with the school district, Rampey had his employees do work at Hudkins’ office in the Sequoyah Professional Building, and Bill Miller, Maintenance Director at the school district, knowingly authorized payment of the invoice. When Sisney found out about this scheme, Hudkins tried to discredit Sisney by spreading the rumor that Sisney was stealing from the District.
To convince people that this story was true, Sisney produced an invoice that Bill Miller, the District’s Director of Maintenance, had authorized for payment and the District had paid – showing the address of the Sequoyah Professional Building.
The Real Story
Sequoyah Middle School address and room where the work was done: 2701 S. Elm, Room 105.
Sequoyah Professional Building address, as stated on the invoice: 2017 S. Elm, Room 105.
Suite 105 was not Dr. Hudkins’ office, as was implied in Sisney’s lawsuit; it was the office of OBGYN of Green Country. Air Assurance had previously repaired a pilot light problem there; that is why the address was in their system. The wrong address was chosen when the invoice was created.
“Knew for a fact”
In May 2008, Mike Rampey tried to reach Sisney to discuss the rumors of wrongdoing that Sisney had been spreading about Air Assurance; Sisney refused to take his calls. On May 22, 2008, Sisney finally met with Rampey. Sisney told Rampey he “knew for a fact” that AA had cheated the District. The Sequoyah work was one of the incidents he brought up. Mike Rampey responded by researching the incidents and inviting Sisney to look at the records that showed there was nothing wrong. Specific to the Sequoyah accusation, Rampey produced records showing that the work was done at Sequoyah Middle School, including service request forms, work orders, purchase orders, receiving reports, and electronic timecards. He offered to pull the GPS proof if necessary, to show that the AA truck was at Sequoyah Middle School all day. Sisney refused to meet with Rampey to see the evidence, but all five board members saw it and were satisfied. Sisney later said that Air Assurance had not done anything wrong, and that it was only internal controls that needed improvement.
Sisney knew in May/June 2008 – at the latest – that the invoice address was a typo. Yet months later, in September 2008, Sisney filed his defamation lawsuit, resurrecting the claim – which he knew was false – that corrupt District employees had authorized payment for work done at the office of Rampey’s friend Hudkins. In his filing, he even included Rampey’s letter from June 27, 2008, detailing the evidence that showed that it was a typo on the invoice.
The idea that corrupt employees were enabling Air Assurance to provide services to Rampey friends for free was a big lie, and Sisney knew it the whole time.
“Stealing from the District”
In August 2008, Rep. Ritze met with Sisney to discuss the board’s attempt to hire a new law firm (Rosenstein Fist and Ringold) and Sisney’s perception that they would try to fire him. Sisney showed Ritze the Sequoyah invoice,and despite his knowledge that it was just a typo, told Ritze that it was a fraudulent invoice that proved corruption in the District and Air Assurance. Sisney showed Ritze various other documents that allegedly showed corrupt practices in the Maintenance Department and collusion with Air Assurance. Ritze was apparently convinced just by being shown these documents. He did not try to verify that Sisney’s claims were accurate.
Ritze spoke on Sisney’s behalf at the 8/12/2008 board meeting. It was over the next week or so that Ritze claims to have heard Dr. Hudkins, a friend of his, state on three occasions that Sisney was “stealing from the district”.
Did Dr. Hudkins tell Rep. Ritze three times, in the presence of others, that Jim Sisney was “stealing from the District”? Did he loudly announce at the rally in the park that Sisney was stealing from the District?
Not according to Dr. Hudkins. Both Dr. Hudkins and Rep. Ritze testified the same thing: that Hudkins said that Sisney was accusing Hudkins and Rampey of “stealing from the District”. According to Hudkins’ testimony, he told Ritze he felt Sisney was calling him a thief by saying he had received services that the District paid for – not the other way around.
Ritze’s testimony contradicts itself; first he says Hudkins told him Sisney accused Hudkins of stealing from the District, then he says Hudkins never told him “anything like” Hudkins felt like Sisney was calling him a thief.
Who do we believe? A falsely accused optometrist who was shocked to learn that rumors questioning his integrity were being spread by the Superintendent of Schools, and who would not have been in a position to know if the superintendent was stealing from the schools? Or a newly elected state representative who believed the implausible story told to him by a man he had just met, did nothing to check up on it but immediately began to help him turn public opinion against the school administration? A man who tried to get out of his deposition by lying about having undertaken an investigation; who denied and “did not recall” his involvement in unethical acts supporting the obviously false story of corruption; and who participated in misleading the state auditor, long after having access to information that showed that Sisney’s accusations were false and spread intentionally in an intimidation attempt?
“I don’t deal in rumors”
For those who continue to claim that Sisney “raised questions” and “undertook an investigation”, it’s obvious now that “raised questions” meant “intentionally spread baseless rumors”, and Sisney’s “investigation” was all about digging up anything that he could mischaracterize to support his corruption story. If he had actually been concerned about the Sequoyah invoice, he could have checked school records before he accused Air Assurance. Clearly he did not. Some investigation. Or he could have simply had someone check with AA about the invoice. He did nothing to verify his suspicion; just went forward with spreading the “District paid for Rampey friend HVAC service” story even though it didn’t make sense and was easily disproved. When Rampey tried to clear up the issue, Sisney didn’t want to know; he refused to be shown the evidence because he wanted to continue to exploit the error to promote his corruption story.
In his defamation lawsuit, Sisney refers to Hudkins as “friend to the Rampeys and recipient of Air Assurance heating and air service paid for by BASD”. That is very clearly an accusation, intended to set it as fact in the reader’s mind. Yet in his December 2009 deposition, Sisney denies three times (page 171) that he ever made allegations that Air Assurance had improperly billed the school district for work performed on non-school district property such as that owned by Dr. Hudkins. When asked if he ever allowed those rumors to continue, Sisney answered, “I don’t deal in rumors”.
That’s not what I heard.
The transcript of Rep. Mike Ritze‘s full, sworn deposition of September 29, 2010, was filed as an exhibit at Tulsa County district court on May 12, 2011, with the defendants’ Joint Motion for Protective Order and Stay, on the defamation lawsuit that Sisney filed on September 3, 2008. Ritze’s deposition transcript begins on page 132 of the pdf.
Two other sworn deposition transcripts were filed as exhibits with that same joint motion.
The first is the sworn testimony on December 10, 2010, from Sherri M. Combs, the special auditor from OSAI who produced the first BAPS audit that was discarded because her boss, then State Auditor Steve Burrage, stated her independence as an auditor was “detrimentally impaired,” stating that he thought “she was relying on information from people that had an agenda.” The transcript of her deposition begins on page 16 of the pdf of the Joint Motion linked above.
The transcript of Rep. Mike Reynolds‘s sworn deposition of September 29, 2010, begins on page 83 of the pdf of the Joint Motion linked above.