Melissa Morton, the former accounting and compliance director for the Oklahoma Beef Council, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court for embezzling $2.68 million from Oklahoma beef checkoff funds over a seven-year period.
“This is a significant step towards bringing this criminal matter to conclusion, and we are indebted to federal investigators and the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Western District Oklahoma for the speed at which it has moved,” the Oklahoma Beef Council's board of directors said in a statement.
“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 council added.
The Oklahoma Beef Council also was awarded a judgment against Melissa Morton for $2.68 million in civil court on May 10, 2017. The council's board of directors has been aggressively pursuing efforts on all fronts to maximize recovery, restitution and justice and said it continues to do so.
“This has been a tremendously complicated situation as it relates to the criminal and civil matters,” the Oklahoma Beef Council said. “We continue to be limited in the details we can share, but we anticipate a time when we can give a more complete accounting. The next step is the sentencing process, and it is our understanding it will take a few months.”
The Oklahoma Beef Council said it has strengthened its internal controls to ensure the integrity of its accounting systems. The group also has engaged a third-party firm for accounting services to provide an additional level of oversight.
“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 that the positive impacts of the beef checkoff on our industry are so much greater and encompasses far greater benefits than the wrongdoing of one individual,” the council said.