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Chicken-Fried News: Money followed

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John Pettis paid no mind to members of the press as he quickly marched out of the Oklahoma County jail and into his car on the morning of May 15. If the criminal charges against the Oklahoma City councilman are true, attention to the media is not the only thing Pettis has not paid within the last decade.

Pettis, who currently represents OKC’s Ward 7 on the city council, faced a barrage of questions from the local press after bailing himself out of jail and pleading not guilty to three counts of embezzlement and one count of tax evasion. According to the allegations, Pettis took more than $100,000 in donations to charities under his control for his own purposes. Oklahoma Tax Commission also said that it has no record of Pettis ever filing a tax return.

Ever. That is not exactly what Chicken-Fried News would call an honest way to make a living.

Among the charities Pettis allegedly withdrew money from was the Rhonda K. Hutson Foundation, which was set up to honor a cancer victim with whom Pettis attended church. He serves as the nonprofit’s treasurer and signor.

Channel 4 reached out to Hutson’s mother, Lola Lee, about the allegations, but she declined to comment outside of saying she found the charges “hard to believe.” Board member Phillip Lewis called Pettis a “trustworthy board member.”

“At every meeting, we go over the budget. It’s stated what’s in the budget,” Lewis told KFOR. “We have trusted Mr. Pettis to serve as his role as treasurer.”

According to the affidavit against Pettis, investigators were unable to verify “any activity to further their stated objective.” The other charities Pettis is alleged to have withdrawn from include the Southern Leadership Enhancement Center and the Oklahoma Institute for Minority Affairs.

Pettis is still a member of the city council, but on May 17, he announced his resignation, effective May 31. Before the allegations were made, he was one of several Democratic candidates competing in a party primary for a chance to fill the Oklahoma County Commission seat recently vacated by Willa Johnson. Johnson had endorsed Pettis for the role.

But a month that Pettis had probably set aside for campaigning will now be all about preparing for his next court date, scheduled for June 14.

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