The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Tahlequah Police Department have urged members of the local Chamber of Commerce board not to comment on allegations of embezzlement within the organization, officials said Tuesday.
Concern has grown among chamber members about the status of their membership dues, which can cost $150 to around $2,000 per year, based on the number of employees.
Chamber Board President Stanley Young said the group intends to put an interim director in charge while the board tries to sort through problems that have surfaced. Young said the board has a couple of candidates in mind for the temporary position.
Tahlequah Detectives Jeff Haney and Chris Boals are working with OSBI Special Agent Vicky Lyons to determine whether embezzlement occurred within the chamber. Police Chief Nate King said he requested the OSBI’s assistance because some city hotel-motel tax funds flow from the city to the chamber.
In a press release issued Tuesday, the OSBI confirmed agents will be working “in the coming months” to track down “how much money came into the organization, who had access to the funds, and how the money was spent.”
When the probe is complete, the OSBI plans to provide a copy of its report to the Tahlequah Police Department and to the District Attorney’s Office.
“Based upon the facts inside the report, the district attorney will determine what, if any, laws were broken and by whom,” the statement said.
David Moore, who had been the chamber’s executive director for nearly a decade, resigned abruptly last Thursday without providing a reason, according to Young.
Tourism Director Kate Kelly is on paid administrative leave.
Among the accusations made to members of the Tourism Council board and the Chamber of Commerce board are that Kelly’s medical and dental insurance was allowed to lapse. It was also alleged that audits of the chamber and Tourism Council have not been conducted for at least two years.
The Daily Press has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the chamber for a number of documents, including audits dating back to July 2012; budgets dating back to 2012; and bank records of the Tourism Council and chamber involving checking accounts, debit and credit card histories; and accounts related to membership dues and the city hotel-motel tax from July 2011 until present day.
“Right now, we want to run that [request] through the people who are doing the investigation,” Young said.
The Press has also requested invoices from the chamber to the city of Tahlequah.
According to chamber bylaws, all disbursements must be made by check. Any check for more than $500 must be signed by two representatives chosen among the president, treasurer, executive director, or other officer designated by the board.
The chamber is also to carry an insurance policy “to bond all employees of the chamber and persons authorized to sign checks in an amount determined by the board of directors.”
Audits of the chamber’s accounts are required to be completed 120 days after the end of the fiscal year by a public accountant or special, qualified audit committee, which cannot be comprised of any director or committee member. The audit review is to be available to chamber members “at all times,” and the president of the board is responsible for initiating the audit process.
Board members told the Press the Tourism Council is essentially an advisory board to the Chamber of Commerce. The chamber board would approve replacements on the council, and technically, the chamber director supervises the tourism director. The Chamber of Commerce has a contract with the city to administer the hotel/motel tax, which amounts to about $100,000 per year, and provides funding for tourism.