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Beckham County family charged with embezzlement

Three family members who managed a rural Beckham County water district have been charged with embezzlement for allegedly going on a multiyear spending spree with water district funds.
by Randy Ellis Modified: August 16, 2012 at 10:15 pm •  Published: August 17, 2012
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SAYRE — Three family members have been charged with embezzlement after being accused of stealing more than $25,000 from a rural Beckham County water district and embarking on a multiyear spending spree.

Items allegedly purchased with embezzled funds ranged from tires and a front-loading clothes washer to iPods and a flat screen television, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent who investigated the case.

Ronnie Earl West, 65, his wife, Billie Jean West, 60, and their daughter, Sheila Dee Elizondo, 36, each were charged Tuesday in Beckham County District Court with embezzling funds from Beckham County Rural Water District No. 2, in Erick.

Ronnie West served as manager of the water district for about 20 years, his wife worked as office manager for about 10 years and their daughter worked on and off as office manager for the past several years, OSBI agent Shawn Wright said in a sworn statement. They are no longer employed by the water district, which serves about 200 customers in Erick in far western Oklahoma.

Contacted Thursday, Elizondo referred questions about charges against family members to their attorney, Dan Jacobsma, of Elk City. Jacobsma did not return a telephone call to his office.

Prosecutors allege the embezzlement occurred from January 2007 through April 2011.

While the criminal charges accuse each of the three of embezzling in excess of $25,000, the exact amount embezzled could be larger.

What tipped them off

The investigator reported there were no cash deposits into the water district's checking account from January 2007 to April 2011, which is as far back as the bank's records went. After employment of the family members ended, an accountant reviewed subsequent transactions and found the district received an average of $908.60 a month in cash payments during the following nine months.

Based on that average, more than $46,000 in cash payments might be unaccounted for from January 2007 through March 2011, the OSBI agent indicated.

The investigation also revealed that Billie Jean West and her daughter used the water district's checking account to write a series of checks totaling more than $8,000 that the water district's governing board knew nothing about. Additionally, some checks in that series were converted to electronic payments totaling more than $1,300.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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