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Audit: EMSA head spent money on spa, lavish travel

Sean Murphy, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma's largest ambulance service reimbursed its longtime chief executive for trips to a spa, an American Airlines Admirals' Club membership and several lifetime subscriptions to satellite radio services, State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones wrote in an audit released Tuesday.

The audit of the Emergency Medical Services Authority showed CEO Stephen Williamson was reimbursed for numerous expenditures that the general public would consider "unwarranted and extravagant," Jones said.

"Although EMSA does strive to serve the public with the highest quality medical transport care, neither the management nor the Board of Trustees consistently considers the public interest with regard to certain expenditures that could be perceived as inappropriate and excessive," Jones wrote in the introduction to the 46-page audit.

The audit noted Williamson spent $450 on the membership in the American Airlines Admiral's Club, $415 on a spa bill, and two lifetime subscriptions to Sirius Satellite Radio at nearly $400 each. He also was reimbursed for a $669 hotel bill that didn't include a room charge but was for room service, mini bar and data service.

The audit revealed EMSA paid more than $40,000 in rent for an apartment in Oklahoma City for a trustee and a staffer who made frequent trips from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, as well as more than $1,500 in cable television service, a $428 LCD television, and a $433 remote control.

Other questionable expenditures included $4,304 on a 20-year anniversary party in 2009 that included the purchase of three Mont Blanc pens for around $400 each. The agency spent more than $4,500 on another retirement party in 2010 that included a $325 crystal flower vase for the retiree.

Williamson was not available for comment Tuesday. EMSA released a statement indicating details of the audit would be discussed during the board's regular meeting Wednesday.

"The audit, released this afternoon, was requested by the EMSA board, as part of our efforts in past months to improve the organization's overall practices and policies," Lillian Perryman, chairwoman of the EMSA board, said in a statement.

"We requested it because we wanted specific areas evaluated by a third party and look forward to seeing their recommendations. We are still reviewing the report and it will be discussed in detail in tomorrow's board meeting."

The audit also noted that Williamson's daughter was employed by EMSA's primary collection firm and that an EMSA contractor, Paramedics Plus, sponsored part of Williamson's travel costs as president of the American Ambulance Association. Although the audit found no confirmed conflicts of interest or prohibited financial benefits, it reported both "could appear to be conflicts of interest and, therefore, disclosure to the Board of Trustees becomes imperative."

Established in Tulsa in 1977, EMSA is a public utility-based emergency medical service provider that expanded to Oklahoma City in 1990 and currently provides ambulance services to more than 1 million people in central and northeast Oklahoma. It is governed by an 11-member board that includes four members each appointed by the cities of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, one member each from the Tulsa-area suburbs and the western division jurisdictions, and the medical director who serves in an ex-officio position.


Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy