by Erica Shaffer | Oct. 5, 2017
TONKAWA, Okla. – The Organization for Competitive Markets is continuing to push back against checkoff fees with its latest complaint filed with the Office of the Inspector General of the US Dept. of Agriculture. The group alleges that the Oklahoma Beef Council and the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association are improperly influencing a checkoff vote.
“It has just recently come to light that the Oklahoma Beef Council has joined the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association (OCA), an agriculture industry trade organization, in campaigning and promoting a “yes” vote on a state referendum that would force Oklahoma farmers and ranchers to pay in addition to the Federal Beef Checkoff fee, an additional state fee of $1.00 for every head of cattle they sell,” OCM said in the complaint.
The group further alleges that the Oklahoma Beef Council and Beef Checkoff funds, logo, mark and symbol are “…illegally being used to promote and influence government policy and action” through the support of a “yes” vote on the referendum.
“This is just another example of how we cannot trust the Oklahoma Beef Council,” said Paul Muegge, OCM board member and Oklahoma farmer. “…Oklahoma cattle producers need to turn out Oct. 2 through Nov. 1 to vote ‘no’ to stop the abuses. Since the Oklahoma Beef Council is allowing out-of-state corporate beef interests and our Oklahoma children to vote on this tax increase for Oklahoma cattle producers, we need Oklahoma cattle producers to make their voice heard, too.”
The OCM also noted revelations that a former employee of the Council embezzled more than $2.6 million in program funds over a decade. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Melissa Day Morton pleaded guilty to the crime, and admitted that she forged the signature of the Beef Council’s executive director on a check and later presented that check for payment against the Beef Council’s bank account at a local bank.
On its website, the Oklahoma Beef Council listed oversight measures taken to ensure the integrity of the program in Oklahoma. Annual independent audits and contracting with a third-party accounting firm with circulating accountants for all accounting services are among the measures listed.
In a statement dated Sept. 28, 2017, Heather Buckmaster, executive director of the Council, said “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 never detected. It is still shocking that one of our long-standing, trusted employees would steal from OBC and the hard-working farming and ranching families we represent.” The statement goes on to explain steps taken since the theft was revealed.
OCM is asking the Inspector General to:
- conduct a full and complete investigation and a full and complete audit of the activities of The Beef Council and the federally mandated beef checkoff funds;
- force “all parties” to stop using the checkoff mark, logo and symbol; and
- order the Oklahoma Beef Council to stop all activities and expenditures associated with the state referendum and to hold the Council accountable for any expenses and costs incurred by promoting the referendum.