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Oklahoma City Councilman John Pettis charged with embezzlement, stealing money from charities he started

OKLAHOMA CITY - City councilman John Pettis was charged with embezzlement and tax charges late Friday in what prosecutors allege Pettis stole tens of thousands of dollars from charitable organizations under his control, and used the funds for personal use.

Pettis, 35, faces three counts of felony embezzlement and one count of intentionally failing to file tax returns for nine years.

Prosecutors allege he stole more than $175,000 through supposed charitable organizations started or controlled by Pettis.

Pettis has served as a Ward 7 councilman since 2013 and is currently running for District 1 County Commissioner.

Oklahoma City Government Spokesperson Kristy Yager said in a statement, "These charges are unrelated to John Pettis' service on City Council."

In April 2017, an individual called the Oklahoma City Police Department alleging criminal activity by Pettis, which launched a year-long investigation.

According to the affidavit, Pettis controlled three charities from which he took money for personal use, or could not show the funds were directed to the charity’s intended mission.

Court documents show $12,551.17 was deposited between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2017 into a donation-funded account for the Rhonda K. Hutson Foundation (RKHF), which is to raise funds and awareness for triple negative breast cancer, according to the affidavit. Memos on the majority of checks deposited contain identifiers as: donation, fundraiser, tickets, car raffle or school supply drive.

However, during that period, investigators wrote there was $11,572 in outgoing funds, the majority being cash withdrawals by Pettis. There were also expenses that include t-shirts, Off the Hook Seafood, Sam's Club, Bill Veazey's Party Store, and Walmart.

The affidavit states "the investigation was not able to verify RKHF performing any activity to further their stated objective."

Another charity, called The Southern Leadership Enhancement Center (SLEC), was purportedly established "to assist the impoverished community who lack the skills necessary to gain employment and participate in society," according to a grant request letter sent by Pettis to a potential donor.

That donor, Chicago-based Santreece Foundation, contributed $137,500 to the SLEC between 2009 and 2014.

However, according to the affidavit, records show Pettis made cash withdrawals from the charity, but no checks were written.

There is also no evidence of any charitable activities conducted by the SLEC.

News 4 reached Santreece Foundation President Thomas Reece by phone at his Chicago home Friday evening. When asked about the investigation, Reece said he's "not going to talk about it. Not going to discuss the matter at all, period."

A bank account for a third organization, called the Oklahoma Institute for Minority Affairs (OIMA), was started in 2013.

Part of the OIMA stated mission reads, "being dedicated to the social, economic, and civil development of African-American, Native-American, Latino-Hispanic American Communities as well as Women's groups and Organizations in Oklahoma."

Deposited funds totaled $27,256.40. Outgoing funds totaled $26,248.56, most of it cash withdrawals made by Pettis, and checks to others.

The affidavit states, "the investigation was not able to verify OIMA performing any activities for the benefit of the community."

Pettis is also charged with tax fraud, accused of failing to file taxes between 2009 and 2017. In fact, the affidavit states, "the OTC has no record that John Pettis Jr. has ever filed an Oklahoma Tax Return."

When questioned by investigators, neither Pettis nor his attorney offered “any explanation,” according to the court records, and Pettis still has not provided any documentation of activities of the charitable organizations related to their purported missions.

"I have been made aware of the charges and Councilman Pettis was in contact with me Friday,” said Mayor David Holt to News 4 Saturday morning. "Councilman Pettis will have to speak for himself regarding his future, but the charges are obviously very serious."

News 4 tried to reach Pettis at his home, business, and the addresses listed for the charities in question, but no one answered the door at any of the locations. We also tried to reach him by phone. However, Pettis did later respond with a text message that said, "Thank you for reaching out to me. No comment at this time."