A court hearing scheduled for March 5 will determine whether embezzlement charges against Carroll Fisher, Oklahoma insurance commissioner, and Opal Ellis, a special assistant to the commissioner, should continue or be dismissed, according to interviews.
The Oklahoma County District Court will look at four indictments delivered by a multicounty grand jury in mid-February and determine whether to proceed with a trial.
Additionally, the grand jury, which reconvenes on March 22, is looking into other areas related to the matter, says Charles Price, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
The indictments name Fisher, Ellis and Fishers charity, the Fisher Foundation, which was established to buy shoes for needy children.
The indictment alleges that Fisher and Ellis deposited money paid to the insurance department for continuing education to Ellis personal bank account instead of with the Oklahoma Treasurer and then transferred those funds to a separate bank account to which only they had access, according to a statement from the AGs office. It is alleged that the total was $40,000.
The funds, according to the indictment, were collected from agents for a banquet connected to a “Continuing Education Day” established by the insurance department. The commissioner is required by law to show that a producer had obtained a certain number of CE hours before renewing licenses and a CE Day was established.
A separate indictment accuses Fisher, Ellis and the foundation of failure to register a non-exempt charitable organization and failure to report contributions to a non-exempt charitable organization, the AGs office states.
One of the allegations in the indictments, according to Price, charges that Ellis demanded and received 10% of all sales made at vending machines installed in the insurance department headquarters between July 1999 and July 2003.
Fisher, 64, was considering a run for the U.S. Senate. He is currently in his second term as insurance commissioner.
At press time, Fishers attorney could not be reached for comment.
Ellis attorney, John Coyle, says the statements in the indictments are “false.” It is an “attempt to discredit” the commissioner and those who work with him, according to Coyle.
The banquet was a private affair and funds from the banquet are private funds, says Coyle. “No money is missing from the funds, which are not public in the first place,” he adds. Because there was no checking account for the foundation at the time, he says, Ellis deposited the funds in her account. When an account was established, those funds were transferred, Coyle continues.
Proper procedures for creating the foundation centered on not paying a required $10 filing fee, he says. The matter has been corrected, Coyle continues.
Commenting on the vending machine indictment, Coyle comments, “Opals not guilty of any wrongdoing.”
Coyle says a multicounty grand jury was not appropriate for a matter that took place in a single county and plans to raise a legal issue on that point.
Ellis is a “69-year-old widow whose biggest crime was to try to raise money to buy shoes for poor children,” he says.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, February 27, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.