OKLAHOMA CITY — Early in Scott Pruitt’s political career, as a state senator from Tulsa, he attended a gathering at the Oklahoma City home of an influential telecommunications lobbyist who was nearing retirement and about to move away.
The lobbyist said that after the 2003 gathering, Mr. Pruitt — who had a modest legal practice and a state salary of $38,400 — reached out to her. He wanted to buy her showplace home as a second residence for when he was in the state capital.
“For those ego-minded politicians, it would be pretty cool to have this house close to the capitol,” said the lobbyist, Marsha Lindsey. “It was stunning.”
Soon Mr. Pruitt was staying there, and so was at least one other lawmaker, according to interviews. Mr. Pruitt even bought Ms. Lindsey’s dining room set, art and antique rugs, she said.
A review of real estate and other public records shows that Mr. Pruitt was not the sole owner: The property was held by a shell company registered to a business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Mr. Wagner now holds a top political job at the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Pruitt, 49, is the administrator.
The mortgage on the Oklahoma City home, the records show, was issued by a local bank that was led by another business associate of Mr. Pruitt’s, Albert Kelly. Recently barred from working in the finance industry because of a banking violation, Mr. Kelly is now one of Mr. Pruitt’s top aides at the E.P.A. and runs the agency’s Superfund program.
At the E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt is under investigation for allegations of unchecked spending, ethics lapses and other issues, including his interactions with lobbyists. An examination of Mr. Pruitt’s political career in Oklahoma reveals that many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.
According to real estate records, the 2003 purchase of the house for $375,000 came at a steep discount of about $100,000 from what Ms. Lindsey had paid a year earlier — a shortfall picked up by her employer, the telecom giant SBC Oklahoma.
SBC, previously known as Southwestern Bell and later as AT&T, had been lobbying lawmakers in the early 2000s on a range of matters, including a deregulation bill that would allow it to raise rates and a separate regulatory effort to reopen a bribery case from a decade earlier. Mr. Pruitt sided with the company on both matters, state records show.
In 2005, the shell company — Capitol House L.L.C. — sold the property for $95,000 more than it had paid. While shell companies are legal, they often obscure the people who have an interest in them, and none of Mr. Pruitt’s financial disclosure filings in Oklahoma mentioned the company or the proceeds — a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules.
The Oklahoma City deal, which has not been previously reported, was one of several instances in which Mr. Pruitt appeared to have benefited from his relationships with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner while in state politics.
During his eight years as a Republican state senator, Mr. Pruitt also upgraded his family residence in suburban Tulsa from a small ranch-style home to a lakefront property in a gated community. In addition, he bought a sizable stake in a minor league baseball team, and took a second job at Mr. Wagner’s corporate law firm. Mr. Kelly’s bank, SpiritBank, would be there for much of it — providing financing for Mr. Pruitt’s Tulsa home and his stake in the baseball team, as well as the mortgage for the Oklahoma City house.
Mr. Pruitt’s interactions with SBC also show that his blurring of lines with lobbyists has roots in his Oklahoma years. One of the issues at the E.P.A. that has gotten Mr. Pruitt in trouble with government watchdogs involved his renting a room in Washington for $50 a night from the wife of an energy lobbyist who has had business in front of the agency.
Lobbyists and others in Oklahoma state politics who encountered Mr. Pruitt recalled him as a tough competitor who always had his eye on a higher office. Some called him a “Boy Scout” who was stingy with his money, while others said privately that he had exuded a sense of entitlement — that rules did not apply to him.
David Walters, a former Oklahoma governor and Democrat, described Mr. Pruitt as someone who looked out for himself over the needs of constituents, especially during his years as attorney general.
“I was disappointed to find him operating in a hyperpartisan manner and seemingly representing corporate interests over Oklahoma citizens,” Mr. Walters said.
In response to questions submitted by The New York Times about Mr. Pruitt’s finances in Oklahoma, an E.P.A. spokeswoman said Mr. Pruitt’s business dealings with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner “were ethical” and his stake in the shell company “was a simple real estate investment.”
“Mr. Wagner and Mr. Kelly left high-profile positions in law and banking in Oklahoma, to serve in the administration,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “They are dedicated E.P.A. employees who have earned the respect and admiration of E.P.A. career employees across the country. They serve the country professionally, and transparently — and are committed to ensuring the programs they work on are successful.”
Rubbing Shoulders in Oklahoma City
The house on Northeast 17th Street in the historic Lincoln Terrace neighborhood here was built in 1928 and has a grand staircase and an arched doorway. Ms. Lindsey said one of the home’s attractions was that it looked out on the white dome of the State Capitol.
Mr. Pruitt stayed in the house for parts of 2004 and 2005, neighbors said. The residence put him within walking distance of his job — legislators worked only part of the year, mainly from February through May — and also near SBC Bricktown Ballpark, which was home to his baseball team, the RedHawks, now known as the Dodgers.
Jim Dunlap, then a Republican leader in the State Senate, said he rented a room from Mr. Pruitt above the garage. He was under the impression that Mr. Pruitt had bought the home as an investment with a group of lawyers, he said.
“This was a place where you slept and had dinner,” Mr. Dunlap said. “It was all above board.”
Oklahoma campaign disclosures filed by Mr. Pruitt at the time made no mention of the home purchase or the rental agreement with Mr. Dunlap. Real estate records show that the transfer of ownership from Ms. Lindsey, the lobbyist, was rather complicated and involved multiple steps — none of them with any public reference to Mr. Pruitt, though the E.P.A. spokeswoman confirmed that he was one of five co-owners of the shell company.
When asked whether such a disclosure would be necessary, the executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, Ashley Kemp, referred The Times to a 2005 ethics manual. The rules required disclosing “every business or entity” in which an official held securities valued…