October 2009 Editorial Winner

State’s own ‘Madoff’ lived high on school money
By Bill Walter, The Hennessey Clipper
Oct. 8, 2009

How could a top official steal almost half a million dollars from the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) before the board of directors, staff accountants, auditors or janitors caught on to the scam?

The investigation into the wrongdoing, which implicated only Danny Rennels, executive secretary of the organization, began Feb. 2. That's when an "interested party" discovered that Rennels had pledged OSSAA certificates of deposits to secure personal loans.

Rennels was a long-time official with the association. He had exclusive control over the day-to-day business and spending.

Apparently his first theft was pocketing $16,000 that an Oklahoma City television station paid for TV rights in 2005.

Later, he cut a $100,000 deal with Reebok to require all Oklahoma schools to use Reebok basketballs in their tournaments. Then he stole that money too.

Another rights sale and sale of a prime billboard location netted Rennels $174,000 in 2008.

For two years he used an association credit card and ran up $26,000 in personal expenses.

The now-fired chief regulator of Oklahoma's high school athletics, and other extracurricular activities, admits to looting the association of $421,500 to pay off loans and gambling debts.

The district attorney's investigator asked for 10 felony charges against the former official, but his boss only filed one charge. That let Rennels out of jail on a pitiful $2,000 bond. That's not even pocket change, compared to what he stole!

Astonishingly, he has worked out a deal to avoid going to prison, but that slap on the wrist appears to hinge on his making restitution within 30 days.

Rennels and family members are reported to have agreed to pony up the money for restitution.

If he doesn't make good on that agreement, if s unclear how stringent that 30 day limit is.

And what is really going to be done about it when the news dies down?

The OSSAA organizes secondary school activities at the state level. That includes boys and girls sports, district, regional, area and state championships playoffs, schedules, and venues.

It also oversees other activities and competitions such as music, speech and debate.

It is funded by receipts from taxpayer-supported activities in schools all across Oklahoma.

Yet it’s a private, non-profit organization.

That means it doesn't come under the state's Open Meeting and Open Record acts.

The new OSSAA executive director is quoted as saying he is "uncertain" about how such open record requests about their business will be handled.

That’s easy!

If you have nothing to hide, provide the requested information fully, and rapidly.

It’s a joke that OSSAA isn't considered a state agency since it operates on money generated by our school activities.

What else is there about the organization that they need to hide from the public or from the news media?