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Friday, January 5, 2017
After Sentencing of Melissa Morton for Embezzlement from Oklahoma Beef Council- Former Chair Tom Fanning Calls It Justice Served
While much of the money is gone and will likely not be paid back- former Oklahoma Beef Council Chair Tom Fanning called the sentencing of Melissa Morton for embezzlement of $2.6 from the Oklahoma Beef Council as "justice served." Morton received a sentence of 57 months in Federal Prison followed by five years of supervised release. According to federal law, Morton will be required to serve at least 80-85% of her sentence.
While Morton was ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution to the Oklahoma Beef Council- she has currently paid back about ten percent of the money stolen from the Beef Council- the OBC will have to wait for her to pay over $600,000 to the IRS first- they are demanding back taxes, saying the $2.6 million she stole was income that she owes taxes on.
Fanning talked with me after the sentencing was complete- saying that it has been a very difficult time for board members of the Oklahoma Beef Council as they tried to explain to fellow cattle producers the "trust that was broken and the deceit that was brought on us and the level of fraud that she perpetrated."
The US Attorney told the judge ahead of sentencing that Morton's actions were deliberate as she carefully kept multiple sets of books, forged 790 checks and fooled several third party auditors over seven years before she was caught. The US Attorney emphasized that the theft was especially serious as she broke trust as an long time employee of a non profit agency.
Click or tap here to read more- and to listen to our conversation with Fanning right after the sentencing was finished on Thursday afternoon.
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|Statement and Release from Oklahoma Beef Council After Sentencing of Melissa Morton for Embezzlement
The following is the statement released on Thursday afternoon from the Oklahoma Beef Council after the sentencing of Melissa Morton for her embezzlement of funds from the Beef Council.
"While there is no sentence that would truly rectify the harm these crimes have done to our organization and to our producers, we are satisfied knowing we have done everything in our power to cooperate with Federal authorities to seek justice," said Angie Meyer, Chairman of the OBC.
According to federal law, Morton will be required to serve at least 80-85% of her sentence.
Additionally, the OBC has filed a lawsuit against its former auditors, Arledge and Associates (Arledge). The lawsuit alleges that Arledge was the accounting firm engaged to perform audits of the OBC for fiscal years 2012-2015. The lawsuit further alleges that after a thorough investigation by third-party experts in forensic accounting, it became clear that Arledge's audit opinions were incorrect and misleading, and that Arledge failed to perform the audits in accordance with reasonable and applicable auditing standards. The OBC is seeking to recover all damages caused by Arledge in the lawsuit.
Following the sentencing, the OBC Board of Directors expressed its continued regrets to the farming and ranching families it serves:
"As beef producers, the intangible harm of this former employee's actions will be felt for some time as we work to rebuild the trust that was broken," said Meyer. "It's important to know the OBC has taken the key steps to ensure such a crime never happens again."
Click or tap here to read more- including the steps mentioned by Meyer that have been taken to prevent such a crime from happening again.
|Soap Box Time After the Sentencing of Melissa Morton
Before I climb onto my soap box- one other bit of reaction has come from the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association- their former President Charlie Swanson was at the sentencing as was their Executive Vice President Michael Kelsey- OCA issued the following statement later Thursday afternoon:
"Today, OCA was in attendance in federal court as the former Beef Council employee, who stole from all Oklahoma cattle producers, was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison. OCA is now looking forward to the Oklahoma Beef Council's continued important work of promoting beef and increasing beef demand."
Now for my ranting-
This mess with the stealing of money from the beef checkoff by Melissa Morton stretches back to the August-September 2016 time frame. The first mention that we were able to publish (we knew a few days before this) came on September 21, 2016 when the Oklahoma Beef Council released the following comment:
"We recently became aware of employee wrongdoing at the Oklahoma Beef Council. We immediately terminated the employee and launched an internal investigation and engaged a third-party accounting firm to conduct a forensic analysis and assessment of our financial records. When our investigation revealed possible criminal activity by our employee, our legal counsel contacted the proper authorities and we are turning over information as they request. "
This was a LONG and tortuous story to follow- the level of fraud became known towards the end of 2016- and it surprised and horrified everyone that saw the numbers- by early 2017- we knew we were talking about $2.6 million or thereabouts.
I suspect that many cattle producers who have paid the checkoff in Oklahoma are still mad, mystified and not satisfied with the explanations that have been given.
In the interview that we did with Tom Fanning yesterday afternoon- the first on the record interview that anyone has given me since this all started- he talked about the level of fraud. I have been told about how elaborate this whole scheme was- and how good at covering it all up Morton was in facing and passing audits- from private auditors as well as from federal government audits related to checkoff oversight- she outsmarted them all.
Ultimately- it appears that the Beef Council's bank is to be thanked for noticing the first discrepancy that started the multi million dollar pipeline of money to Morton's bank account to come undone.
If you pay into the checkoff- you have a right to be angry. But, as was noted in a Facebook conversation stemming from my report on the sentencing from a CPA- Morton is not the only thief that has figured out how to steal from a bank account- "Hate to even say it but embezzlement is on the rise these days. Been CPA for 30 something years and involved in more cases in last two years than I had in previous 30."
The challenge for the Beef Council in Oklahoma is to regain trust from producers- and that will take some time.
|Grain Market Guru Kim Anderson Says Wheat Prices on the Floor- But There Could be a Basement Under the Floor
Oklahoma State Grain Market Extension Economist Dr. Kim Anderson believes that the wheat market is right around its bottom- but that does not mean we might not see slightly lower prices. In talking with Dave Deken on a segment recorded for this weekend's SUNUP TV broadcast, Anderson says the value of the dollar has fallen a few percentage points- and a lower dollar could help US wheat in the global market.
On the wheat futures market- there are a lot of short contracts- and Dr. Anderson believes that at some point in the near future- some of those shorts will have to liquidate which could pressure the market higher.
Anderson also talked about whether farmers might get paid if they producer a higher protein wheat in 2018. He says that won't happen on the futures market- but rather at harvest- if wheat tests high in protein- a stronger basis will reward farmers that have above average protein.
Click or tap here to go and listen to Dave and Kim- and to be a full rundown of what the first SUNUP show of the year will look like.
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Click here for more details about the 2018 Oklahoma City Farm Show- presented by Midwest Farm Shows.
|Wheat Farmers Experience Extreme Winter Conditions Calling for Swift Reauthorization of the Farm Bill
Recent extreme winter conditions in major wheat-producing states re-affirm the need for a 2018 Farm Bill and strong federal crop insurance program. According to Radiant Solutions, a data collection and analysis company based in Herndon, Virginia, "solid snow cover in the northern Plains and Midwest gave wheat fields enough protection from the bitter cold conditions, but temperatures that dipped as low as 40 degrees below zero did plenty of damage this past week in the central and southern Plains and southern Midwest."
"To the best of our ability, wheat growers do what we can to mitigate risks on our farms," said Gordon Stoner, President of the National Association of Wheat Growers and Outlook, Montana farmer. "However, we are still at the mercy of Mother Nature and strong Farm Bill safety net programs, like crop insurance, can help enable us to farm another year if hit by a devastating weather disaster.
Click or tap here to read more from this report from Radiant Solutions and why NAWG says we need a farm bill sooner rather than later.
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|NCBA's Colin Woodall Talks Trade and ELDs and ESA
NCBA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall talks trade and ELDs in our latest Beef Buzz. Woodall says cattlemen are concerned about the Trump Administration's tough talk on NAFTA- and how that could hurt the free and open trade now enjoyed by the US with both Canada and Mexico.
Woodall is also worried about tough talk about the Korean Trade Deal- other wise known as KORUS. Woodall says the last couple of years have been incredible when it comes to US beef and South Korea- they are now the second largest US Beef Export market based on value. NCBA pledges to work with the Trump Administration so they continue to do no harm when it comes to the open door we have on beef trade with South Korea- as well as with Canada and Mexico.
We also have comments from Colin on ELDs and ESA- click here to read more
and to hear his comments on these issues being tracked by the NCBA staff in our nation's Capitol.
|Arkansas Plant Board Rejects Proposed Changes to Dicamba Regulations
The Arkansas State Plant Board, as well as the board's pesticide committee, made no changes to its proposed regulations on dicamba use in the state. An Arkansas Department of Agriculture spokesperson says, "The board met on Wednesday to consider a request from a subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council to reconsider its recommendations on 'scientific-based evidence,' as well as creating northern and southern zones in the state, and ambient temperature and humidity as they relate to nighttime temperature inversions."
Both the plant board and the committee voted in favor of retaining the recommendations as they are currently written.
The current recommendations prohibit the application of dicamba-based herbicides after April 15th of this year(ending October 31). However, according to Arkansas policy, the discussion isn't done yet as the rule-making process in Arkansas is a little more complicated than many other states. The proposed regulations once again will head to the Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee for consideration on January 16th.
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