Former Oklahoma American Legion official is going to prison for embezzlement
By NOLAN CLAY | The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City | Published: August 26, 2019
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (Tribune News Service) — A former top official at The American Legion of Oklahoma is headed to prison for embezzling from fellow veterans to enrich himself.
The former longtime adjutant, David Austin Kellerman, 48, had sought probation at his sentencing Friday after denying — again — any wrongdoing. Instead, a judge ordered him to prison — for three years.
Stunned, Kellerman said, "I'm going to prison, your honor?"
"Yes," Oklahoma County District Judge Tim Henderson replied.
Turning red, Kellerman pleaded with the judge for time to get his affairs in order.
"No," the judge said. "Today's the day. Today's sentencing."
Kellerman then asked if he could say goodbye to his 13-year-old son, who was waiting outside the courtroom with a service dog.
"That's up to the sheriff," the judge said.
The dramatic exchange was the capstone to an investigation and prosecution that spanned six years and was marked by surprising setbacks. Three times before, Kellerman had been charged as a result of the investigation. Each time, those cases were dropped because of problems, once days before trial.
"Our concerns long ago seemed so far-fetched. No one would believe us," said Marv Sandbek, a Legion district vice commander in attendance at the sentencing. "But here we are today, after all of these years, six years. And what we know today is that what we were concerned about is real. It's real. And now we can go about the business of restoring and rebuilding. And we have this behind us."
Much of the investigation had to be redone by a federal agent when a state investigator turned out to be a fraud who had faked his credentials. Because so much time passed, prosecutors could not charge Kellerman over all of the misused money.
Kellerman was the state Legion adjutant from September 2003 to December 2011. In the paid position, he handled day-to-day operations for the Legion from headquarters in Oklahoma City near the Capitol. He remained active in the Legion in 2012 and 2013, serving as a voluntary assistant to his successors.
The American Legion is a patriotic and politically powerful veterans organization. National officials took over the Oklahoma operations for nine months in 2014 after discovering money was missing. They estimated at the time that as much as $1 million had been embezzled.
In the latest charge, Kellerman was accused of selling loaned ceremonial rifles, pocketing $4,650 from the sale of a closed Legion post, embezzling from the Memorial Poppy fund and embezzling from a Legion bank account.
The evidence against him included bank records showing he used a debit card to withdraw thousands of dollars from ATMs at casinos in 2013.
The sentencing Friday came after Kellerman pleaded no contest in May to two felony embezzlement counts.
In addition to prison, the judge ordered Kellerman to serve 12 years on probation after his release. The judge also fined him $200 and ordered him to pay $51,165 in restitution.
The judge rejected Kellerman's claims that he had withdrawn funds at the casinos because he had an informal agreement with the Legion to be compensated for training his successors. The judge said there is no place in the world where if you're owed money you just go get it.
The prison time came as a surprise to Kellerman in part because, in exchange for his no contest plea, prosecutors had agreed to ask for no more than 90 days in jail, plus probation and restitution, as punishment. Prosecutors also had dropped three felony counts to get him to plead.
His defense attorney, Richard Anderson, showed the judge Friday evidence that Kellerman is considered 100% disabled because of PTSD. The attorney said Kellerman has recurring nightmares from killing an 11-year-old armed combatant who had ambushed him and other Marines on patrol in Somalia.
Kellerman wept in court Friday as a fellow Marine who had been with him in Somalia described him as a hero.
Prosecutor Matt Adams, an assistant attorney general, pointed out to the judge that the vast majority of those who served in combat overseas and came back with post-traumatic stress disorder do not "over and over violate the trust of their fellow veterans."
A deputy sheriff did allow Kellerman to hug and kiss his son after the sentencing on the way to the jail elevator. The assistant attorney general told the judge arrangements had been made beforehand for the boy's mother to pick him up if necessary.
Kellerman was first charged with embezzlement in 2014. That case involved accusations about the loaned World War I and World War II rifles. Days before trial in 2016, prosecutors dropped that case because of evidence problems.
Kellerman was charged a second time after suspected methamphetamine was found inside his home during a search in 2014. Prosecutors dropped the drug case in 2015 because the phony investigator had prepared the search warrant request.
Kellerman was charged the third time, in 2016, over the sale of the closed Legion post in Fairland. Prosecutors dismissed that case so the accusations could be incorporated into the latest case and because of other issues.
Kellerman could face more prison time if he is convicted in an unrelated case pending in Canadian County District Court. He is accused there of inappropriately touching a 7-year-old girl. "We are fighting that tooth and nail," his attorney said.
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