The American Legion national headquarters is investigating its Oklahoma offices because at least $100,000 was embezzled from there, The Oklahoman has learned.
The investigation comes after the former Oklahoma American Legion adjutant was charged in January with selling ceremonial World War I and World War II rifles for his own personal profit.
The outcome of the investigation could be as drastic as the ouster of the state department’s entire current leadership.
“We won’t know more until after the visit and (a) report is completed and adopted by our board of directors in May,” said Joe March, media director for The American Legion national headquarters.
Three members of The American Legion’s board of directors and the national finance director will travel to Oklahoma City next month to hold a closed-door, fact-finding hearing, the media director told The Oklahoman.
The American Legion is a patriotic veterans organization that has more than 2.4 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide.
The Oklahoma department had almost 28,000 members in 2008-2009, according to the state website.
The media director said the closed-door hearing will be held because of “number of concerned member reports,” the arrest of the former adjutant and some accounting irregularities.
Also, “there have been a number of instances where new member cards and payments were not submitted to national headquarters in a timely fashion during the past year,” he said.
No one has been charged with embezzlement over the missing funds.
Prosecutors at the Oklahoma attorney general’s office are focusing on the former adjutant, David Austin Kellerman, 43, of Mustang.
Kellerman already is charged with embezzlement as a result of the investigation into the sale of ceremonial rifles.
Kellerman was charged after a gun collector reported buying 39 ceremonial rifles from him. “He’s denying it,” said his attorney, Kevin Krahl.
“He’s denying he did anything wrong.”
Prosecutors with the attorney general’s office filed the felony charge in Canadian County District Court.
The attorney general’s office “will continue to monitor the situation to see whether any further action is necessary,” a spokesman said.
Kellerman was the state adjutant from September 2003 to December 2011, court records show.
The American Legion national headquarters began looking into the state chapter “as a direct result of the” attorney general’s investigation of Kellerman, said the attorney general’s spokesman, Aaron Cooper.
Meanwhile, the current state leadership at The American Legion is blaming two fired secretaries for the embezzlement of funds.
In a civil lawsuit, The American Legion’s Oklahoma department alleges Rebecca C. Bays and her mother, Cynthia L. Lemons, conspired and colluded with each other to embezzle in excess of $100,000.
“Defendants took this money by fraud and stealth,” the lawsuit states.
In a counter suit, Lemons alleges she was illegally fired.
She complains she was fired because she cooperated with “a federal/state investigation of her boss, David Kellerman.”
Her attorney, Jim Priest, stated in the counter suit that Lemons gave information to federal agents and the Oklahoma attorney general’s office “in their investigation into illegalities involving Kellerman and others within” the Oklahoma organization.
The attorney stated in the counter suit that the current state adjutant, Frederick L. Speir, called Lemons and Bays into his office to fire them.
The attorney stated Speir told them, “I don’t want to do this, but I have no choice. You are fired. Get your purse and get out of here.”
Priest alleged Speir terminated Lemons at the direction of Kellerman.
The lawsuit and countersuit are pending in Oklahoma County District Court. Bays is expected to file a counter suit of her own later, making the same claims.
The current adjutant, Speir, last week declined to comment. After calling an attorney, Speir politely told a reporter to leave the state offices.