The past year’s bank records for the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce show a number of handwritten checks were made out to chamber members and local businesses for reasons yet to be explained by those caught up in an ongoing embezzlement probe.
Among the 8-1/2 years of available Bank of America records are scanned copies of chamber checks written from June 2013 to June 2014. Many drafts appear to have been printed for payroll or other services, but several were handwritten for various amounts and included no hint in the memo lines as to their purpose.
Former Executive Director David Moore’s name is the only signature to appear on the handwritten checks. His name also appears alone on many printed checks, several of which exceeded $500 and should have required two signatures, according to chamber bylaws.
Several checks appear to have been signed by Moore and written to himself: one for $2,962.78 on May 10, 2014; one for $1,485.41 on May 15, 2014, with the word “payroll” written in the memo line; one for $400 on March 25, 2014; and one for $800 on Aug. 12, 2013.
A few checks were also written to former Tourism Director Kate Kelly: $506.30 on May 22, 2014; the same amount on March 27, 2014; and $300 on Dec. 31, 2013.
The Tourism Council itself appeared in the “pay to the order of” line on several checks bearing Moore’s signature: $250 on April 16; $450 on Feb. 24, 2014; $1,300 on Dec. 30, 2013; $1,000 on Dec. 27, 2013; $1,300 on Dec. 23, 2013; and $2,200 on Dec. 9, 2013.
“I can’t identify the checks other than the ones written for $506.30,” Kelly said Tuesday. “It was to pay for [my] insurance premium.”
Kelly’s medical and dental insurance, which were part of her compensation package, had been allowed to lapse. She initially reported suspicions about irregularities to Moore, her boss.
A group insurance policy once existed to cover both Moore and Kelly. After Kelly learned her insurance had lapsed last year, she was apparently told by Moore to find insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace at the healthcare.gov website.
She understood she would receive a check from the chamber to pay the insurance premium.
“I preferred the check be made payable to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, but was told that wasn’t possible,” Kelly said.
After trying “multiple times” to get Moore to handle the insurance issues, Kelly said, she turned to Tourism Council board member Ed Fite, who took her concerns to the entire council and ultimately to the chamber’s board of directors.
As the allegations surfaced, Moore abruptly resigned as the executive director of the chamber, and cut ties with former colleagues and associates by turning off his phone service and canceling his Facebook account. Kelly was placed on paid administrative leave and was later fired by the chamber. The board has provided no explanation for her termination.
“The checks written at the end of the month in December are a mystery to me,” said Kelly. “I wasn’t in the office then – and usually am not – because I take vacation days from Christmas through New Year’s so I can spend time with my family.”
The April 16 check to the Tourism Council appears in the tourism bank statements as a mobile deposit. The Feb. 24 check also appears in bank statements as a mobile deposit, as does the Dec. 30 check. The Dec. 27 check for $1,000 is listed as a “counter credit” in tourism bank records. The earlier December checks written to the Tourism Council appear as mobile deposits.
Former chamber board President Steve Jones’ name appeared on three checks; two were printed and one was handwritten. Printed checks were made out to Steve Jones – the husband of attorney Angela Jones, who is now representing the chamber board – on Feb. 12, 2014, and July 17, 2013, each time for $1,000.
A $1,200 check was handwritten to Steve Jones on Jan. 14, 2014, according to the bank records.
A message left at Angela Jones’ downtown Tahlequah office was not returned by press time Tuesday.
On at least three checks, chamber member Patsi Smith’s name appeared. Each of the three drafts was written for $1,000: one dated April 30, 2014; one dated March 24, 2014; and one dated Jan. 29, 2014.
The Daily Press contacted Smith Tuesday, but she declined to say if she could explain why her name appeared on chamber checks that were reportedly signed by Moore.
“I really need to refer you to the [Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation] or the chamber board of directors,” Smith said.
At the onset of the probe, board members revealed two individual members had made loans to the chamber of $14,000 and $5,000 respectively. Patti Morton, who last week vacated her post as board treasurer, declined to name those who provided the loans, saying it “wouldn’t be fair” to them.
The OSBI has asked other chamber members whether they had been approached about providing loans to the chamber, or about “hastily” paying membership dues or sponsorship fees, rather than mailing in their checks as usual.
A number of other checks are also nebulous in nature.
On Aug. 5, 2013, a check written to “BOCC” for $500 indicated in the memo line that it was for a “loan extension.” On Nov. 5, 2013, a check was made out to the Bank of Cherokee County for $200; a check for $500 was made to the bank on Feb. 12, 2014; and two other $200 checks were written to the bank in April and May of 2014, respectively, the bank statements show.
Several other handwritten checks were made throughout the past year to Tahlequah Public Works Authority and the postmaster, as well as to other local businesses for lawn-mowing or other services, according to bank records.
One $400 check was written to “Ted’s Escondido,” a Broken Arrow and Tulsa cafe. The chamber’s check card was also used a few times at the same place in recent years, records reveal.
Two checks dated Sept. 12, 2013, were handwritten to the Greater Tenkiller Lake Association – one for $2,000, and a second for $1,000.
Prior to June 2013 statements, only itemized lists of withdrawals or debits made with checks appear in the chamber’s bank records. Details of those expenditures include check numbers, amounts, post dates, and bank reference numbers, but do not specify to whom the checks were written.