Phil Albert, the former University of Oklahoma regent and former Tulsa Regional Chamber chairman who once was a top political donor in the state, is facing a federal jury trial in March after being charged with tax evasion Jan. 23.
Albert, the former president and managing member at Pelco Structural, is accused of tax evasion by preparing and signing a false and fraudulent income tax return for the 2016 calendar year. The specific criminal charge is but one of several illegal and unethical financial actions Albert has been accused of by former Pelco Structural owners and the company’s former comptroller, Don Eagleton.
After being charged, Albert was released on a personal recognizance bond. In return, he agreed to surrender his passport and to not transfer, sell, give away or otherwise convey any asset, without first consulting with the U.S. Probation Office. He is scheduled to appear in the U.S. District Court for Northern Oklahoma on March 8 for pre-trial motions, with a jury trial scheduled to begin March 27.
Richard Cella, from U.S. Attorney Clinton Johnson’s office, signed the criminal information document, which provides the only description of the charge against Albert so far:
Beginning on or about April 2014 and continuing until in or about May 2021, in the Northern District of Oklahoma and elsewhere, the defendant, Phillip Barry Albert, willfully attempted to evade and defeat income tax due and owing by him to the United States of America, for the calendar year 2016, by preparing and causing to be prepared, and signing and causing to be signed, a false and fraudulent U.S. individual income tax return, Form 1040, which was submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 7201.
In 2022, federal prosecutors reached a plea agreement with Don Eagleton Jr., a former Pelco accountant and controller. According to his sworn plea agreement filed in federal court, Eagleton said Albert “engaged in a scheme and artifice to defraud Pelco Structural and its owners by embezzling” at least $1.5 million between 2016 and 2019.
Background on Phil Albert allegations
In his federal plea agreement, Eagleton wrote that Albert, while he was president and managing member at Pelco Structural, would “write on a scrap piece of paper whatever amount he wanted me to submit as a special reimbursement for him” through the Claremore-based company’s payroll system.
“At Albert’s direction, these reimbursement payments were structured so that they would neither have federal income taxes withheld, nor appear on Albert’s Form W-2,” Eagleton wrote. “At Albert’s direction, I affirmatively concealed the unauthorized payments by falsely miscoding the payments in Pelco Structural’s accounting system so that they would appear within the Cost of Sales-Steel account.”
Albert resigned from Pelco Structural in April 2019, ultimately filing a preemptive lawsuit against the company he co-founded with Phil Parduhn in 2005. Parduhn’s sons countersued, alleging Albert had embezzled at least $7.4 million. Federal investigators visited and interviewed longtime Pelco Structural employees in February 2022, sources told NonDoc.
Appointed to the OU Board of Regents in 2016 by then-Gov. Mary Fallin, Albert served for a period on the board’s finance committee and stood in line to become chairman for the seventh and final year of his term. Instead, he resigned in January 2022 after declining to comment on the allegations against him for two years.
Steve Parduhn, the president and CEO of Pelco Products, declined to comment on the charge filed against Phil Albert.
Phil Albert became a leading political donor
During his time at Pelco, Albert became a civic leader in Claremore and served as chairman of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2017. He was profiled and lauded for his work in growing Pelco’s statewide footprint. (Pelco Structural manufactures large steel poles for commercial, utility, and athletic stadium use.)
Albert was even one of the state’s most prolific donors to political campaigns. According to records from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, Albert donated more than $105,000 to candidates and committees from Jan. 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2018.
For comparison, Albert donated more money to politicians during that period than other prominent political donors, such as attorney Bob Burke ($88,600), attorney Richard Bell ($76,300), banker Gene Rainbolt ($65,500), businessman Brad Naifeh ($47,694.63), oil executive Larry Nichols ($47,400) and oil executive Harold Hamm ($23,600).
Only donors such as banker George Kaiser ($189,350), QuikTrip founder Burt Holmes ($171,400) and apartment magnate and State Regent Emeritus Jay Helm ($158,700) contributed more cash to political candidates from 2014 through 2018.