Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 23, 2014

Records: $120K in chamber funds spent at casino

TAHLEQUAH — Records show about $120,000 in Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce funding was spent at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino over a year’s time, according to sources close to an ongoing embezzlement investigation.

An initial look through the chamber’s financial records revealed expenses of roughly $10,000 per month on a chamber debit card at the Catoosa casino. Although they could not specify who spent the money or for what purpose, sources suggested chamber board members were likely unaware the debit card even existed.

Tahlequah Police Department detectives and special agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation are studying accusations that chamber funding has been misappropriated. Representatives with the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s Office – who are already in Tahlequah to conduct a special audit of city offices – have agreed to investigate the chamber.

The Daily Press filed an open records request with the chamber board June 17 and asked for copies of bank statements, audits and budget documents from recent years. Board President Stanley Young said he would forward the request to investigators to get their approval to release the records. Acting chamber Executive Director Drew Haley on Friday notified attorney Angela Jones, who is representing the chamber board, of the Press’ query.

Young said the chamber board is holding incoming membership dues until new bank accounts can be established. He also said the chamber is “postponing [payment of] bills” until its meeting Tuesday, June 24.

The next installment of hotel-motel tax funds from the city to the chamber will be made June 27, Young said, and he believes new accounts will be in place by then.

According to an invoice obtained by the Press, board members on June 16 asked the city, through a letter signed by Young, to turn over its June collection of hotel-motel taxes. The invoice shows $3,003 is for Tourism Director Kate Kelly’s salary; $235.72 is for her payroll tax; $506.30 is for Kelly’s medical insurance; less than $11 is for postage; $75 is for “dues and subscriptions”; and $900 is for the Tourism Council to pay the Chamber of Commerce for building rent and overhead.

When chamber board members meet Tuesday at 7:30 a.m., they are expected to discuss and take action to engage an attorney; establish an operating line of credit; form a finance committee and an audit committee; and set up a search committee to hire a new executive director.

Haley, the director of the Tahlequah Main Street Association, is serving as acting executive director through Aug. 31 under an agreement approved between TMSA and the chamber.

An executive session of the chamber board Tuesday also calls for members to discuss “the employment, hiring, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of the tourism director.”

Kelly is on paid administrative leave. David Moore resigned as the chamber’s executive director on June 12 after nearly a decade on the job.

During Tuesday’s meeting, chamber board members will also discuss a budget for 2014-2015.

According to chamber bylaws, a budget committee consisting of the treasurer, president-elect and executive director must prepare a budget before each fiscal year, and later present that to the full board for review and approval.

Sitting members of the chamber’s executive board include Young; President-Elect Dr. Steve Turner; Anna Knight; Treasurer Patti Morton; Community Development Vice President Angela Tinsley; Economic Development Vice President Glen Elliott; Organizational Development Vice President Anita Thompson; Tourism Vice President Ed Fite; and Membership Development Vice President Keith Davis. Other board members are Isabel Baker, Joann Bradley, David Dick, Stephen Highers, Stephanie Isaacs, Jason Nichols, Jean Ryals, Denver Spears, and Jasen Wright.

Recent past-presidents include David Williams, who held the post before Young; Knight, who was president before Williams; and former NSU President Dr. Don Betz, who was president before Knight.

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