The Oklahoma Beef Council has confirmed that federal authorities are investigating a possible $2.5 million embezzlement by a now former employee of the Council. Harvest Public Media, a collaboration by public radio stations in several High Plains states, broke the news on Jan. 5.
A statement by Heather Buckmaster, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Beef Council, reads that results on an internal investigation into potential wrongdoing has been turned over to federal authorities in Oklahoma. “Due to an ongoing criminal case and civil matters, we are limited in the details we can share,” Buckmaster said in the statement.
She did point out how the alleged crime was discovered. “When initial evidence was discovered, we immediately terminated the employee and hired an accounting firm to perform an extensive forensic analysis and assessment, which documented $2.6 million in employee theft between 2009-2016. The Oklahoma Beef Council provided this information to Federal authorities in September to ensure swift action could be taken. Our goal throughout this process has been to speed recovery and restitution to the greatest extent possible. The board of directors and staff have cooperated fully with Federal authorities as the investigation has moved forward.”
Tom Fanning, a cattleman and the Chairman of the Oklahoma Beef Council, said in a 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.”
Buckmaster said the Oklahoma Beef Council will bolster its accounting systems and internal controls, and has hired a third-party accounting firm to add more oversight and ensure segregation of duties. The OBC also will add a new position to our team, Director of Compliance, to assist with checkoff compliance and outreach.
Other Oklahoma ag organizations issued a joint statement about the incident.
“As Oklahoma agriculture organizations, we wish to express our support for the Oklahoma Beef Council board of directors and staff. They have briefed us on the steps they have taken to address the matter of embezzlement by former employee. 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 Oklahoma Beef Council is cooperating fully with authorities to ensure justice is delivered and restitution is sought. We appreciate the bravery and integrity of the Oklahoma Beef Council board of directors in reporting the fraud to authorities and taking the steps necessary to ensure justice is done for Oklahoma beef producers. This is a serious matter, but we must not let this distract us from continuing the good work of the Oklahoma Beef Council on behalf of beef producers-from investing in export markets to promoting US beef to educating medical professionals about beef nutrition and other industry issues.
“We look forward to a successful resolution of the criminal investigation and will continue to support the Oklahoma Beef Council and the Beef Checkoff as they work through this.
American Farmers and Ranchers
Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association
Oklahoma CattleWomen, Inc.
Oklahoma Dairy Producer's Association
Oklahoma Farm Bureau
Oklahoma Livestock Marketing Association