OKLAHOMA CITY - A councilman facing allegations of embezzlement will remain on the the city council for the time being, a city spokesperson confirms.
Oklahoma City councilman John Pettis, 35, faces three counts of felony embezzlement and one count of intentionally failing to file tax returns for nine years. Pettis turned himself into authorities Tuesday morning and bonded out.
Pettis is accused of stealing at least $165,000 from charitable organizations under his control and using the funds for personal use. He appeared before a judge for arraignment on Tuesday.
Kristy Yager, public information officer for the city of Oklahoma City, said Pettis has not resigned from his position. As it stands, nothing will change about his duties.
"The city charter does talk about misconduct by a council person, and so we need to go back and look at that charter and see if anything applies in this situation," Yager told News 4.
There are some exceptions in the Oklahoma City charter which would allow the council to remove Pettis from his position, according to Yager. Examples include missing five or more meetings without an excuse or being convicted of a felony charge.
"I can tell you that, should he choose to resign, city council will have 30 days after he turns in his resignation letter to appoint somebody to sit temporarily on city council and represent ward," she said. "Then, they would also have to call for a special election which would be required to be on August 28 to elect a new councilperson for ward."
Randy Ross, executive director of the Oklahoma Accountancy Board, said going nine years without filing taxes may be a long time but it's not totally unheard of.
"It’s part of what we call the underground economy in the United States," Ross said. "Those people who are self employed or receive funds that there’s no 1099 or W2 on, can fly under the radar for quite some time."
Ross worked with the Oklahoma Tax Commission for about 20 years and served as the lead witness in Oklahoma's first criminal case over a failure to file income taxes in 1990. He told News 4, while self-employed people could "fly under the radar," it's much harder for others.
"If you’re a professional such a CPA, a lawyer, an educator… anybody like that… it would be virtually impossible for them to do that because in Oklahoma, before you can get a license, you have to clear the Tax Commission as filing those returns," he said.
Paula Ross with Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) said it's uncommon to find someone that has not filed taxes for many consecutive years.
"Although it does happen, if someone has never filed and is not in the system they may unfortunately get by with not filing," Ross said. "With advances in technology and information we obtain from federal filing information most non filers are eventually discovered. The additional penalty and interest faced by the individuals when discovered also compounds their problem. Our goal is to strive for compliance so individuals do not find themselves in this situation."
Ross said there are several ways they monitor and research those who they believe have not filed an Oklahoma tax return:
- Through through “compliance hot line.” Taxpayer will provide the OTC a potential “lead.” This lead is related to someone they know or have worked with that may not be filing an Oklahoma tax return.
- Occasionally, OTC will receive whistleblower leads through their OTC “fraud line.”
- Oklahoma Statute requires taxpayers of Oklahoma who possess a Professional License or is a State Employee must file and remit an annual tax return. The OTCdatabase allows them to monitor, research, inquire and assess if applicable those who have not filed.
- If the taxpayer files their Federal Return (IRS) and the Federal Return has an Oklahoma Address but the taxpayer does not file at Oklahoma return, the OTC would, through their database, generate a lead as part of our Non-filer Discover Program.
Pettis took no questions from reporters at both the Oklahoma County Jail and the Oklahoma County Courthouse on Tuesday. News 4 also called and texted him for a comment. We have not heard back yet.
He is expected to appear in court again on June 14.