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Agriculture

$2.6 Million Paid By Farmers And Ranchers Allegedly Embezzled From Beef Council

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Federal authorities have launched an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of $2.6 million from an Oklahoma nonprofit board that promotes the beef industry. An investigation by Harvest Public Media and StateImpact Oklahoma shows the money came from a mandatory government program funded by farmers and ranchers.

The Oklahoma Beef Council is part of a national group funded by a mandatory one-dollar per-head checkoff fee paid each time farmers and ranchers sell an animal.

The council kept the alleged embezzlement under wraps until an inquiry made by Harvest and StateImpact. While criminal charges have not been filed, the council has filed a lawsuit to recover money from its former accounting and compliance manager. The national beef board takes in about $80 million a year with little federal oversight, which has angered some farmers and ranchers like Mike Callicrate. He says news of the embezzlement didn’t surprise him because of the beef board’s “veil of secrecy.”

"It just adds to the suspicion that I think a lot of cattlemen have that that are dollars are not being utilized in a way that actually benefits the cowboy that's paying," Callicrate says.

The Oklahoma Beef Council refused a request for an interview. In a statement, it said it was cooperating with federal investigators and had strengthened its accounting practices.