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Agricultural News


Criminal Charges Filed Against Melissa Morton in the Embezzlement of $2.68 Million From the Oklahoma Beef Council

Wed, 10 May 2017 11:12:22 CDT

Criminal Charges Filed Against Melissa Morton in the Embezzlement of $2.68 Million From the Oklahoma Beef Council Criminal charges have been filed against a former employee of the Oklahoma Beef Council that has been accused of stealing millions of dollars from the checkoff program in the state of Oklahoma. The following statement has been released by the Oklahoma Beef Council and is being called a formal statement from the OBC Board of Directors:


"Melissa Morton, the former accounting and compliance director for the Oklahoma Beef Council, was charged today by the US Attorney's Office of the Western District of Oklahoma with embezzling $2.68 million dollars from the Oklahoma Beef Council over a seven year period. We are grateful for the swift action of federal investigators and the U.S. Attorney's Office.


"When initial evidence of the crime was discovered, we notified oversight authorities of the intent to begin an internal investigation, terminated the employee and hired an accounting firm to perform an extensive forensic analysis and assessment. We informed local authorities of the matter as the internal investigation was nearing completion. The case was quickly shifted to federal authorities and we have cooperated fully with investigators on the case.


"This has been an extremely complex situation. We have appreciated the patience and support of Oklahoma's beef producers as it has progressed. We are limited in the details we can share and continue to be so due to on-going criminal and civil matters. It is our understanding the next step will involve a hearing with a plea entered by the defendant.


"What we can share is the Oklahoma Beef Council has strengthened our internal controls to ensure the integrity of our accounting systems. We have also engaged a third-party firm for accounting services to provide an additional level of oversight.


"According to Tom Fanning, a cattleman and the chairman of the Oklahoma Beef Council, "it is important to know since we turned this situation over to authorities, one of our overriding goals has been to work towards justice for our organization and the farming and ranching community we serve. Today's charges are a major move forward towards reaching that goal. We will continue to keep Oklahoma's beef producers apprised of the situation as it proceeds."


Staff and leadership of the Oklahoma Beef Council have declined any further comment until after the case is resolved.


Oklahoma Beef Council Executive Director Heather Buckmaster uncovered the wrongdoing at the end of this past summer- and Morton was dismissed in September. It was revealed at the beginning of 2017 that over $2.6 million dollars was the amount apparently embezzled. On January 5th, Beef Council Chairman Tom Fanning released the following statement- "Our board and staff take great pride in serving beef producers in investing their Beef Checkoff dollars to grow and protect beef demand. Discovering you have a staff member that did not share that vision and abused our trust, has been a devastating blow to all of us. We have taken every step to address this matter to ensure we are following through in our responsibilities to Oklahoma beef producers and are awaiting the results of the criminal investigation."


"In the meantime, the OBC has taken the findings from the forensic analysis and assessment to strengthen our accounting systems and internal controls to ensure the integrity of the organization. We have moved forward in our operations with a third-party accounting firm to ensure an additional level of oversight and a greater level of segregation of duties. The OBC will be adding a new position to our team, Director of Compliance, to assist with checkoff compliance and outreach."


Click here for our complete story from January 5th which includes comments by Fanning as well as reaction from the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association.


The Oklahoma Farm Report also was able to get reaction at that time from Polly Ruhland, the CEO of the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion board- click or tap here to read her comments. Since that time, Beef Board officials have been advised not to comment further on the ongoing case.


Also in early January, a half dozen Oklahoma groups involved with the cattle industry offered a statement on the developments- and thanked the Oklahoma Beef Council for their work to resolve the situation- click or tap here to read their earlier statement.


This past February, Fanning did report to the Quarterly Board Meeting of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association and indicated that Morton had begun to paid back some of the money taken- no dollar amounts were mentioned.



   



 

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