Cattle Producers Wait on Criminal Charges in Embezzlement of Beef Checkoff MoniesFri, 10 Feb 2017 05:59:11 CST
It's a story where a reporter with no expertise in reporting on the beef industry seems to be searching for a fresh perspective while cattlemen wait on the federal investigators to file charges. We are referring to the apparent embezzlement of 2.6 million dollars by the former Director of Accounting and Compliance for the Oklahoma Beef Council, which was first reported on last fall.
A reporter who works for public radio in Oklahoma posted a story yesterday rehashing information released in early January of the investigation that continues by Federal officials. We can tell you what we know- based on conversations at state and national cattle meetings we have been a part of in recent days. In truth- there is very little new information in this situation since the coverage that was given by the Oklahoma Farm Report and others in early January. The Chairman of the Oklahoma Beef Council, Tom Fanning, has given reports to fellow cattlemen at both the recent Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association Policy Meeting two weeks ago as well this past week in Nashville at the Cattle Industry Convention. Fanning said with the investigation still active- he and his board members could say little except that they are cooperating with state and federal officials and working hard to get money paid back to producers as restitution.
Going back to last summer- when the problem was discovered- the Beef Council Board of cattle producers was told by their Executive Director- officials were alerted- a third party auditor was hired and the work immediately started to unravel how long the stealing was going on and how much was stolen. While specific conversations cannot be reported at this time- the consensus of those closest to the story is that this was the work of a very clever person who worked extremely hard to hide this crime and did so through multiple audits over a stretch of eight years.
Local and Federal officials have engaged with the Beef Council from the time of discovery- and state and national beef industry officials have been told to stay quiet to preserve the integrity of the investigation- and in fact, we were the only media outlet that got a statement from national beef checkoff officials as Polly Ruhland, CEO of the Cattlemen's Beef Board, expressed anger and dismay in a written statement that she supplied to us after word surfaced about the length of the thieverly and the apparent amount of the money that is the focus of the investigation. Ruhland told us that she "sincerely hopes that if an individual is proved to have wronged the Oklahoma Beef Council, and the farmers and ranchers of Oklahoma, that individual is brought to justice, and appropriate restitution is made."
At that same time- the Oklahoma Beef Council issued a statement and so did a coalition of farm groups in Oklahoma- all supportive of the cattle producers who serve as volunteers on the Board of Directors and supportive of the two remaining staff members of the Beef Council- which includes Executive Director Heather Buckmaster.
It appears that we are getting closer to federal criminal charges being filed- word has come that restitution has begun by the accused former employee- how much will ultimately be recovered remains to be seen.
It appears that the public radio reporter tried to mix this state investigation with claims of two gentlemen trying to throw mud at the federal beef checkoff program- one from Oklahoma and the other from Colorado- that are supporters of the Humane Society of the US- the same group that opposed the general ag community in Oklahoma with their opposition to Right to Farm last fall- spending $1.2 million to defeat it.
Former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge and Colorado's Mike Callicrate have several things in common- both are big supporters of the OCM- the Organization for Competitive Markets and both also are on their respective state's HSUS Ag Advisory Board.
Both Muegge and Callicrate focus their venom on the Federal Beef Checkoff- claiming misuse of checkoff money and helping the OCM in their vendetta against the National Cattlemen's Beef Association- as the group suspects checkoff money has funded illegal political lobbying.
The article implies that a large and growing segment of cattle producers are upset with the handling of checkoff money. However, the Beef Checkoff regularly conducts surveys of cattlemen to rate their approval of the beef checkoff- the latest study from December shows 69% of cattlemen approve of the checkoff program- with 76% of beef producers saying the beef checkoff has contributed to a positive trend in beef demand. Click here for details of the study just released this past week in Nashville at the Cattle Industry Convention.
The charge of wrongdoing by the nation's largest beef cattle group, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, is one that periodically resurfaces by groups like the OCM, RCalf USA and even the National Farmers Union- but the facts speak otherwise. We talked last week at the Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville with the CEO of the NCBA, Kendall Frazier, who says the audits have been done- third party private investigators as well as by USDA Accountants- and the firewall is intact- and the organization has gotten thumbs up for keeping the checkoff money and the policy money separated. You can hear Frazier's comments on that by clicking on the LISTEN BAR below- they are a part of our radio coverage of today on the subject.
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