FAIRLAND — The investigation into missing funds at the American Legion has made its way to a small town in the far northeast corner of Oklahoma.
In August, former state Legion adjutant David Austin Kellerman picked up a $4,650 check for the sale of a closed Legion post in Fairland.
He kept the money, authorities have determined.
An investigator with the Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department traveled to Fairland last week to interview the purchaser, Charles Mathis, and to get a copy of the check.
Mathis was able to identify Kellerman for the investigator from photos.
“He had several of him ... one off of his driver’s license,” Mathis told The Oklahoman. “He just said, ‘Is this the guy?’ ... Basically, I kind of picked him out as, ‘Yeah, I’m sure that’s the same guy.’”
Through such steps, bit by bit, state and federal investigators are working to determine how as much as $500,000 to $1 million went missing from the Legion’s Oklahoma headquarters. Some evidence has been gathered by digging through trash.
The investigation has focused on Kellerman, and prosecutors are expected to file a charge against him later this month.
He denies wrongdoing, his defense attorney, Scott Adams, said.
Kellerman already has been charged once as a result of the state and federal investigation.
He is accused in an embezzlement charge with taking ceremonial World War I and World War II rifles from Legion posts and selling them for personal profit.
Last August, Mathis had his suspicions about Kellerman.
“He wanted the check made out to him, which I did,” Mathis said.
“I questioned it,” Mathis said. “I questioned him. He said that he had to pay whoever it is with the American Legion people ... and he had to pay them in cash.”
Mathis, who is 83, said the closed post is next door to his home. “My wife and I thought of several things we might want to do with it,” he said.
Kellerman did keep the money, his defense attorney acknowledged.
Adams said Kellerman had written authorization to keep the funds from the sale as reimbursement for money the Legion owed him.
The Oklahoma Legion commander at the time, though, called the sale a fraud.
The former commander, Wes Benge, said his signature was forged on the notarized quit claim deed completing the sale.
“I’ve never seen that,” he said at a Legion hearing March 12 in Oklahoma City. “And that’s not my signature. I don’t know anything about it.”
The quit claim deed lists the property as being sold for $1.
National Legion officials voted March 23 to shut down the Oklahoma headquarters because of the financial losses.
The national officials voted to relieve all state Legion leaders of their duties, to fire state adjutant Fred Speir and to freeze the state Legion department’s remaining assets.
Since then, Tom Davis, a retired Legion adjutant from Maryland, has arrived to operate the reopened headquarters. National officials are calling this “a temporary situation” that should not affect the operation of any post.
Kellerman, 43, of Mustang, was the state adjutant from September 2003 to December 2011, court records show. The adjutant is a paid position similar to a chief executive officer of a company.
He remained active in the Legion in 2012 and 2013, serving as an assistant to his successors.
He was relieved of all his positions earlier this year.
Kellerman has been on probation since 2012 for two misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Kellerman told a judge in July 2012 that he is a veteran being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
At the March 12 Legion hearing, Speir described Kellerman as manipulative.
“He can manipulate. He’s smart. And he juggles a lot,” Speir said.
He also described how Kellerman advised him to handle Legion bills.
“The bills weren’t being paid on time,” Speir said. “I was informed by Mr. Kellerman that the regular way of paying ... well, they would wait until court proceedings would start and then they would pay the bill a little bit to shut up the creditors.
“And then they would stop paying and then wait for creditors to do legal proceedings. And that was (the) normal course of action.”