An ongoing investigation has revealed $2.6 million was allegedly embezzled from the Oklahoma Beef Council by a former employee.
In September, the Beef Council announced the termination of an employee and an internal investigation was launched into the organization’s financial records. In October, the Oklahoma Beef Council filed a lawsuit against its former director of accounting and compliance, Melissa Morton. The case was filed with Oklahoma County District Court and claimed Morton embezzled more than $75,000 from the Beef Checkoff funded organization. Morton began working for the Beef Council in 2004.
On Jan. 5, the Oklahoma Beef Council released a statement revealing some of the findings from the internal investigation, including the documented theft of $2.6 million from 2009-2016 by an employee. Since September the Beef Council has been cooperating with Federal investigators to determine the extent of the embezzlement.
“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,” says Tom Fanning, a cattle producer and the Chairman of the Oklahoma Beef Council.
The Beef Council plans to add a new director of compliance position to help assist in compliance and outreach for the checkoff.
“We have taken what we have learned from this situation to create a stronger organization with a clear vision to moving forward in our mission of serving Oklahoma’s farming and ranching families,” Fanning says.
A group of allied industry members released a statement in support of the Oklahoma Beef Council during the investigation process that includes:
- American Farmers and Ranchers
- Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association
- Oklahoma CattleWomen, Inc.
- Oklahoma Dairy Producer's Association
- Oklahoma Farm Bureau
- Oklahoma Livestock Marketing Association
“It is a highly unfortunate situation, but we are confident that the Oklahoma Beef Council has taken swift and aggressive action to correct this matter, seek justice and move forward with their mission of enhancing beef demand for producers,” the group’s statement reads.
There is no timeline of when the investigation will end or when the $2.6 million will be restituted.