- Associated Press - Friday, June 12, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Ethics Commission voted Friday to launch an investigation into a state senator at the center of an embezzlement investigation for potential violation of state ethics rules.

The commission’s Executive Director Lee Slater confirmed that Republican state Sen. Rick Brinkley of Owasso was the target of the probe, which will focus on whether Brinkley violated rules related to the use of campaign contributions and surplus funds.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation confirmed last week it is looking into allegations that funds were misappropriated at the Better Business Bureau in Tulsa, where Brinkley worked for 15 years before he was fired in April.

According to Brinkley’s campaign finance reports, he paid $49,693.94 to the BBB on Jan. 7, but the reasons are unclear. A lawsuit filed against Brinkley last week by the Better Business Bureau claims the check was intended to “deceitfully conceal the actual condition of the BBB from its Board of Directors.”

A telephone message left Friday with Brinkley’s attorney wasn’t immediately returned. Brinkley has declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission, which already has begun its investigation, has the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents. If it determines its rules have been violated, it can file a civil lawsuit in district court or reach a settlement agreement, Slater said. The commission also can forward its finding to the district attorney if it suspects criminal wrongdoing.

The Better Business Bureau lawsuit against Brinkley alleges the two-term Republican embezzled more than $1 million from the organization by setting up fake corporate entities and using the money to “pay his mortgage, pool cleaner, personal credit card invoices, and to support a hidden gambling habit.”

It also alleges that Brinkley took cash advances for business trips he never made and provided forged and falsified documents to the bureau’s board to hide his misappropriation of funds.

Elected in 2010, Brinkley earlier this week resigned from his leadership positions, including assistant majority floor leader, chairman of the Senate Pensions Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The commission has five members appointed by state government branches to develop rules on the ethical conduct of elected officials and investigate potential violations.

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