Former McAlester Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Marsha Gore pleaded no contest in Pittsburg County District Court on Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of embezzlement, said District 18 First Assistant District Attorney Chuck Sullivan.
Gore agreed to pay a total of $84.63 in restitution to McAlester Public Schools, Sullivan said. Marsha Gore was also fined $250, ordered to pay $25 to the Victims Compensation Fund and ordered to pay $240 for the cost of prosecution, he said.
Sullivan originally charged Gore with two misdemeanor embezzlement counts. After she pleaded guilty to count one, Sullivan moved to dismiss the second count he had filed against her.
Sullivan said he also moved to dismiss a felony embezzlement charge against Gore's husband, former MPS Plant Operations Manager Joseph "Skip" Gore, after Skip Gore agreed to pay $601.05 in restitution to MPS. Skip Gore had been accused of "fraudulently accepting a Fuel/Travel Allowance through his school contract, while he continued to use a fuel card that belonged to McAlester Public Schools," according to court documents.
Skip Gore was scheduled to face a preliminary hearing on the embezzlement charge on October 4, while Marsha Gore's case had been set for an announcement the same day, according to court documents.
Sullivan said he had been in plea negotiations with the Gores' attorney, Joe White.
"They said they would talk to their clients and see if Judge Mills would take their plea," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said if a plea agreement was reached, he would have expected it to come during the October 4 court appearance.
"I didn't know the plea was going to be today," Sullivan said Tuesday.
However, he said he received an unexpected phone call on Tuesday, saying the Gores and their attorneys were in town and were ready to resolve the cases. Sullivan said Associate District Judge Tim Mills was available and so they went ahead and took the Marsha Gore plea and the Skip Gore agreement on Tuesday.
Having the court action take place without prior public announcement a week before the Gores' next scheduled court date allowed for the action to be completed without prior notification to the public or the media.
Sullivan filed the charges against the Gores in April 2016 following an investigation from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. In September 2015, the News-Capital had launched its own investigation into spending practices at MPS.
In count one of the misdemeanor charges against her, Marsha Gore was charged with fraudulently appropriating $84.63 that belonged to MPS on or about December 31, 2013, by taking herself and other family members to eat at the Red Lobster restaurant in Muskogee, according to court records.
OSBI Agent John Jones wrote in a probable cause affidavit filed earlier this year that he had obtained copies of a dinner receipt at Red Lobster in Muskogee and at Hobby Lobby for the same date, Both purchases were made with a McAlester Public Schools purchase card assigned to Marsha Gore.
Jones said in the affidavit that when he questioned her about the purchase that "Marsha explained that she, her husband Skip Gore, school administrator Ramona Buckner and Marsha's niece had dinner at Red Lobster that night, then went to Hobby Lobby, where they purchased decor and various furniture for the school."
"Marsha told me that she believed the dinner at Red Lobster was a justifiable purchase, because she was also going to Hobby Lobby, which was school business, because decorations for the school were purchased," Jones stated in the affidavit. "The Red Lobster purchase was for dinner for four, totaling $72.63, plus a $12 tip. The purchase at Hobby Lobby was for $723.62."
In the affidavit, Jones indicated that Gore was not authorized to charge the meals for Skip Gore, Ramona Buckner or for Marsha Gore'e niece, who was not a McAlester Public Schools employee.
The second misdemeanor count, the one that Sullivan moved to dismiss Tuesday, accused Marsha Gore of fraudulently appropriating $284.44 that belonged to MPS during a trip that she and Skip Gore made to Durant on July,15, 2015, to attend a visit by President Barack Obama. The money was for meals at restaurants and a room at the Choctaw Casino Resort, according to court records.
Before the charges were filed, McAlester Public Schools Board of Education Attorney Bill Ervin and school board member Mike Sossamon also began looking at school spending issues.
Last November the MPS Board of Education voted to suspend Marsha Gore and Skip Gore with pay, pending the conclusion of termination proceedings against them. After an extended hearing, the board voted on February 2 to fire Marsha Gore from her post as MPS superintendent. The board said it was terminating her because of purchase card spending and personal use violations, misuse of travel and unprofessional conduct and treatment of certified staff at MPS.
Prior to a scheduled termination hearing of Skip Gore, the board opted to accept a resignation agreement with him and to continue to pay him for the rest of his contract.
In February, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to suspend Marsha Gore's state teaching certificate, declaring it an emergency so it would take effect immediately.
Asked Tuesday if he thought justice was served, Sullivan said "One of the challenges is that we treat this case no differently than any other." He said it's not uncommon in an embezzlement case to give a defendant time to repay the amount the defendant is accused of taking.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.