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New audit shows thousands in misused funds, lack of oversight in rural Oklahoma town

Lone Wolf, Okla.
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Lone Wolf, Okla.

Officials in the rural town of Lone Wolf in southwestern Oklahoma have been stealing public money from its residents, according to a new investigation released by the Oklahoma State Auditor’s office on Oct. 5.

The audit, conducted under request of the town’s board of trustees, found office manager Margie Horton used $17,524 to buy health insurance for her children, and may have spent $47,526 from 2011 to 2015.

“When you put too much authority in the hands of one person with no accountability and no oversight, you’re putting taxpayer dollars at risk,” state auditor Cindy Byrd said in a statement. “The Town Treasurer and the Town Board let Ms. Horton basically run the town. She made the bank deposits, wrote the checks, and had unfettered access to its bank accounts and debit card.”

The audit also lists other examples of misuse of funds, such as:

  • $7,247 in bank overdraft fees from failing to make daily utility deposits
  • $23,812 of questionable spending from the town’s general fund
  • $22,743 of unauthorized purchases using the town’s debit card 
  • Questionable payments of payroll and bonuses

Horton, along with town employee Rick Harris and treasurer Charlene Keesee profited at least $2,300 when they bought fireworks from a wholesaler and sold them to the town for profit during an Independence Day celebration, according to the report.
The report also cites a lack of oversight — the town didn’t keep board meeting minutes and kept limited documentation on spending. At times, meeting minutes were even fabricated to reflect actions it did not take. The town also didn’t maintain records or receipts of utility payments from residents.

“The Town did not maintain utility records resulting in a lack of accountability for utility payments received and the inability to determine that utility revenue had been properly billed, collected, posted, and deposited,” the report says.

The report also calls into question the town’s volunteer fire department, which has a separate bank account and has no accountability for fundraisers or spending.

Byrd says the misuse of funds has an impact on small rural towns, like Lone Wolf, which has a population of about 400, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Particularly in our smaller communities, when you steal $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 or more, you’re often taking more than the town collects in one year,” Byrd said in a statement.

Seth Bodine was KOSU's agriculture and rural issues reporter from June 2020 to February 2022.
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