A guilty plea has been entered by a former Oklahoma Beef Council who was accused of embezzling $2.6 million in checkoff funds. On May 24, Melissa Morton plead guilty to charges filed against her in Oklahoma City’s Federal Court, including signing a fake tax return and embezzlement.
Morton was the director of accounting and compliance for the Oklahoma Beef Council, starting employment with the organization in October 1995 and ended working there in July 2016. A lawsuit was filed against Morton by the Oklahoma Beef Council in September 2016 seeking more than $75,000.
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. This is when it was announced that federal investigators were involved in the case.
In all $2,681,400.73 was lost to the scheme by the Oklahoma Beef Council.
The Oklahoma Beef Council Board of Directors released a statement following the plea tanking federal investigators and the US Attorney's Office of the Western District Oklahoma for moving forward with the case quickly.
“We were told the process of a federal investigation could take a year to a year and a half so we are deeply appreciative of the rapid pace in which this case has progressed. We believe this has been partially due to the clarity and quality of the evidence we turned over to authorities from our internal investigation,” the Board of Directors said.
In addition to the guilty plea, the Oklahoma Beef Council was also awarded a judgment against Melissa Morton for $2.68 million in civil court on May 10.
Morton faces up to 30 years in prison, plus five year of supervised release and a $1 million fine for the bank fraud charges. For the tax fraud it would be up to three year, one year of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and paying back the lost tax money to the Internal Revenue Service.
Sentencing has not been finalized but it should take place in approximately 90 days.
The Oklahoma Beef Council is limited in what it can share about the case, but the group believes it will grow stronger because of it.
“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,” the Board of Directors said.
To close the Board of Directors said, “Throughout, we have never lost sight of our mission of serving Oklahoma's farming and ranching families through programs in beef promotion and education. We can't emphasize enough the positive impacts of the Beef Checkoff on our industry are so much greater and encompasses far greater benefits than the wrong-doing of one individual.”