A former accountant and compliance officer for the Oklahoma Beef Council faces federal bank fraud and false tax return charges after an probe into suspected embezzlement of more than $2.6 million.
The Beef Council, which is funded by a mandatory $1-per-head “check-off” fee paid every time ranchers and producers sell an animal, filed a civil lawsuit in October 2016 against the former employee, Melissa Morton. The charges come after an investigation from Harvest Public Media and StateImpact, which obtained an internal audit detailing the alleged embezzlement.
Federal prosecutors accuse Morton of stealing the money to “fund a children’s clothing boutique she opened with her family,” The Oklahoman‘s Brianna Bailey reports:
Peter Scimeca, an attorney for Morton, said in an email that his client is remorseful and is in the process of selling all her assets to repay the money.
“Mrs. Morton profoundly regrets her actions during employment with the Oklahoma Beef Council. She accepts responsibility and has and continues to fully cooperate with the FBI, U.S. attorney’s office, IRS and Oklahoma Beef Council in an aggressive effort to quickly pay back as much money as possible,” Scimeca said. “Melissa apologizes to all those who trusted her and most importantly her co-workers and family.”
A small but growing group of ranchers are questioning state and federal oversight of the check-off program and the local boards that collect the fee.