(October 4, 2017, Oklahoma City) The Oklahoma Beef Council (OBC) is led by a voluntary board of beef and dairy producers, so we understand and appreciate the concerns recently expressed by some producers. In July 2016, OBC discovered one of its employees, Melissa Morton, had committed fraud against OBC and its board of directors, employees, and constituents. Since the fraud was discovered, we have worked tirelessly toward full recovery through every available avenue, and we are continuing to do so.
Morton’s crime occurred through an incredible abuse of trust and deceit that included falsifying financial documents, bank statements, and checks. Despite annual audits (and one year of multiple audits) by outside accounting firms, the fraud was not detected by those firms.
As soon as the fraud was uncovered by OBC, we immediately fired Morton and launched an in-depth forensic investigation, led by a respected and capable outside accounting firm. One of the primary purposes of the investigation was to determine the extent of Morton’s fraud and to identify the steps needed to safeguard OBC from such conduct in the future. Additionally, we notified law enforcement and have cooperated fully with federal investigators throughout their criminal investigation. At this point, Morton has pled guilty and is currently awaiting her sentencing and the justice she deserves.
The beef producers of this state put their trust in OBC, and we take this trust extremely seriously. We have already taken steps to ensure the integrity of the Beef Checkoff in Oklahoma and a greater level of accountability generally, including:
- Contracting with a third-party accounting firm with circulating accountants for all accounting services
- Operating with a five-step review process for monthly financials
- Utilizing positive pay, an automated fraud detection tool
- Instituting an Audit/Risk committee with an independent advisor having significant audit experience
- Employing a director of compliance to provide oversight of beef checkoff collections
- Continuing to undergo annual audits of OBC financial statements
While Morton was the one engaged in the fraud, you should understand we are aggressively engaged in additional recovery and restitution efforts and will continue those efforts until our organization has recovered as fully as possible.
As beef producers ourselves, we feel tremendous regret over Morton’s fraud. However, addressing the situation head-on with integrity, resolve, and a commitment to the families we serve has been our priority from the beginning, and it will continue to be our priority moving forward. And, as devastating as Morton’s actions were, we cannot allow one person’s egregious acts to overshadow the years of important work that has been done and will continue to be done by OBC because of the Beef Checkoff.
Finally, to be clear, the Oklahoma Beef Council is not involved nor has it funded the Vote Yes beef checkoff referendum process in Oklahoma led by a coalition of Oklahoma beef and agriculture organizations.