The Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce’s Bank of America check card was used to withdraw around $270,000 from ATMs in Tahlequah, Catoosa and Tulsa over the past 30 months, bank statements show.
Since January 2012, the check card has been used to make more than 780 cash withdrawals from ATMs in Oklahoma. The transactions were often made at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa, and occasionally at gaming facilities in Tahlequah and Fort Gibson, the statements show.
The card was used at casinos around 110 times in 2012, 150 times in 2013, and 70 times in the first six months of 2014. Withdrawals at gaming facilities rarely occurred in amounts smaller than $100, but frequently topped $600 or $700 per use. At times, the card was used several times a day for cash withdrawals.
Records for some days show a combination of withdrawals and purchases. For instance, on Oct. 19, 2013, the statement reveals a purchase at the Hard Rock for $3,129.99; a withdrawal for $403, then another for $303; and finally, another purchase for $1,048.99.
That pattern continued through mid-June of this year, when the embezzlement allegations were made public. Multiple uses of the card were noted on several days. For example, on Feb. 1, 2014, there were withdrawals from the chamber account for $403, $303, $403 and $283 respectively, all at the Hard Rock Casino.
Bank statements also show chamber funds were often used at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for “purchases” ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 on more than two dozen occasions over the past 2-1/2 years.
In June, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Tahlequah Police Department began probing the disappearance of money and allegations of embezzlement within the local Chamber of Commerce
The state’s Office of the Auditor and Inspector is also involved in the investigation.
While several of the members who sit on the chamber’s board of directors have said they were “duped” by a former chamber employee they trusted, they have otherwise chosen not to publicly explain how funds were frittered away so quickly without their knowledge.
Board members often cite the ongoing investigation and say they fear speaking on the record. They have allowed the Daily Press access to records, but asked for 25 cents per copy for those documents, which number around 300 pages. Such fees are legal and not uncommon under certain conditions, but have not been sought from the Press by a local entity for at least 25 years, longtime employees say.
Board President Stanley Young on Friday said he had not viewed the 300-plus pages of bank records, dating back to January 2012.
Also on Friday, Chamber Board Treasurer Patti Morton said the use of cash at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was not a “legitimate” chamber expense.
Young has previously said only one person – former chamber Executive Director David Moore – had access to the bank card.
He has also suggested board members weren’t aware the check card existed. However, a source speaking on background said “other people” may have known of the card’s existence. The source did not say whether the “people” are board members.
Statements show the chamber’s account had a negative balance several times over the past 30 months.
More money would often be spent in a month’s time than was taken in during the same period.
Bank records also suggest chamber money was used to pay for the Daily Racing Form, a publication that highlights race horses, and Winning Ponies, which provides horse-racing tips and handicapping picks; to pay large restaurant tickets and bar tabs throughout Northeast Oklahoma; to cover automotive expenses, turnpike fees and fuel costs at QuikTrip, Kum & Go, and other stores; to take care of personal utility and insurance expenses; to pay for thousands of dollars in receipts from Wal-Mart, Reasor’s, Best Buy, Staples, Lowe’s and other large retailers; and to cover hotel and motel stays at sites such as the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Oklahoma City.
Board members have indicated they believe some expenses listed among the statements were likely legitimate, including some costs associated with trips and events for Leadership Tahlequah classes.