DALLAS - The Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed five current members and one former member of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to give depositions this month about agency bond issues and underwriter selection during the past five years, officials said on Friday.
The request for depositions appears to be part of an ongoing SEC investigation into potential securities laws violations that was started last fall when the agency's enforcement division asked for documents on turnpike and school cash management program bond issues.
"I think this is a continuation and expansion of what they were doing before," said Gilbert Gibson, a Lawton, Okla., bank executive and secretary-treasurer of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. "It appears they want to ask us about the selection of underwriters."
Gibson said he received a subpoena and a letter dated April 18 from Lauren Albrecht, a senior counsel in the SEC's division of enforcement, requesting documents on subjects such as the criteria for evaluating bond issue participants and the procedure for engaging underwriters and senior managers.
The SEC asked for documents and information on bonds sold from Jan. 1, 1989, to the present, an expansion of its request last fall for materials on a 1992 Oklahoma Turnpike Authority issue in 1992.
The issues are:
* A $608 million refinancing in 1992. Merrill Lynch & Co. and Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. served as lead underwriters.
* A $558 million refunding issue in 1989 with Dean Witter Reynolds as senior manager and Stifel as one of three co-senior managers.
* A $50 million issue in 1992, with Stifel as the senior manager.
Members who served on the board when those bonds were issued were subpoenaed to make the depositions, which were initially scheduled this week and now are being rescheduled to later this month in Oklahoma City after documents are gathered, officials said.
In addition to Gibson, other current turnpike authority members who received subpoenas are: James Orbison, chairman and Tulsa attorney; Jim Scott, an Oklahoma City businessman; and Sam Scott, a nursing home owner-operator in Muskogee. Also subpoenaed was John Kilpatrick of Oklahoma City, a former board member who left in 1992.
Mick LaFevers, vice chairman and a Poteau, Okla., businessman, said he has been called to testify, but is still awaiting the subpoena, which he was told will arrive this week after going to an incorrect address.
"We fully intend to cooperate with anything the SEC wants," LaFevers said. "We have nothing to hide. We feel good about our process."
He said Oklahoma has one of the strictest procedures for selection of underwriters because the deals must be approved by the state's bond oversight commissions.
LaFevers said he believes the investigation into Oklahoma stemmed from the controversy over a New Jersey Turnpike Authority deal, in which the bond industry allegedly used its influence to get negotiated deals.
However, others have said that Oklahoma has its share of influence peddling. In February, state Sen. David Herbert asked the SEC to expand its investigation into bond issues in the state and examine the role of the investment industry. At that time, he said several firms got most of the state business.
Investment banking firms that were lead underwriters for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority during the past five years gave few comments.
Merrill Lynch spokesman Jim Wiggins said, "We were selected as underwriters based on our presentation and our abilities."
Wiggins said he could not speak for the SEC on what has prompted the investigation.
A Stifel spokesman could not be reached for comment. Dean Witter Reynolds executives referred calls to an official, who in turn could not be reached for comment.
Last fall, the SEC wrote a letter to the Oklahoma Executive Bond Oversight Commission requesting documents for the 1992 turnpike refinancing as well as three, two-part bond issues for Oklahoma school cash management programs from 1990 to 1992. St. Louis-based Stifel, which is the top underwriter in Oklahoma, was one of the senior underwriters or the lead underwriter on all the issues.
SEC spokesman Michael Jones said he would not confirm or deny the investigation as a matter of agency policy.
Oklahoma turnpike officials and the state bond adviser said they have complied with all SEC requests for documents in the past.
"We have turned over everything from our office. We were contacted in November," Oklahoma Turnpike Authority spokeswoman Mary Kay Audd said last week. "Now they are going to the individual members to interview them."