Phil Albert sentenced
Phil Albert, then a member of the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, listens during a meeting Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Michael Duncan)

Phil Albert, once a top political donor and member of the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents who was lauded for business acumen while serving on boards of banks and a controversial energy company, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison by a federal judge.

While Albert pleaded guilty one year ago to evading more than $1 million in federal income tax on $2.6 million he took from Pelco Structural between 2014 and 2019, the overall allegations against him detail further embezzlement. Albert had served as Pelco’s president since 2005, and the company’s owners have accused him of stealing more than $10 million from their family business, which manufactures steel infrastructure products such as electrical transmission and light poles.

The fraudulent scheme, to which former Pelco accountant Don Eagleton Jr. also pleaded guilty, included Albert requesting and Eagleton approving large reimbursement checks that were often recorded as: “Cost of Sales-Steel.”

“There are more documents in this sentencing hearing than I’ve ever seen in 30 years on the bench,” Judge Terence Kern said to start of Monday’s affairs.

In all, the hearing lasted just less than an hour, with current Pelco CEO Steve Parduhn and Vice President Kasey Scott making brief remarks as victims of Albert’s actions. Kern interrupted Parduhn and instructed him to say something beyond reading the victim impact statement he had submitted to the court.

“This was not a victimless crime,” Parduhn said. “Our lives have been uprooted. (…) We’ll never be able to get back that time. (…) It’s not over after today. We’ll be dealing with this for a long time.”

Scott referenced Bible verses regarding vengeance and forgiveness, ultimately saying he forgives Albert. Still, he and Parduhn both requested the maximum five-year sentence he faced. Federal prosecutors requested 36 months in person.

“Phil is not a victim in this,” Scott told the roughly two dozen people in Kern’s courtroom. “He has manipulated and lied.”

Kern ultimately sentenced Albert to serve 30 months in prison with one year of supervision after release. Albert, whom Kern instructed to surrender at a federal facility in Missouri on May 8, has also been ordered to pay $3.6 million in restitution split between Pelco and the IRS.

Flanked by family members, Albert used a cane as he walked solemnly into the Northern District of Oklahoma federal courtroom, which fell silent as he appeared.

His attorney, Paul DeMuro, argued that Albert, 64, should be spared prison time owing to health complications from diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

“Mr. Albert’s life has been ruined,” DeMuro said.

Albert, who provided the court with a lengthy video purportedly apologizing for his actions, was the last person to speak before Kern handed down his sentence.

“I take full responsibility,” Albert said. “I’ll spend the rest of my life making amends to the people I’ve hurt.”

Steve Parduhn released a statement following Albert’s sentencing.

“This has been a long and painful journey, and we are glad this day has finally come where we were able to see a conviction and sentence rendered for crimes committed,” Parduhn said.

Parduhn: Albert theft exceeded $10 million

Phil Albert sentenced
Flanked by family members, Phil Albert leaves the Page Belcher Federal Building after being sentenced to 30 months in prison for tax evasion Monday, March 25, 2024. (Tristan Loveless)

For the Parduhn family, the five years since Phil Albert was terminated from Pelco Structural have crawled along. The pandemic delayed FBI interviews, and even after the federal investigation had concluded, Albert only faced a charge for failing to pay taxes on the money he stole.

Three members of the Parduhn family filed victim impact statements with the court, as did Scott — who criticized Albert for “thievery, betrayal, deviant behavior and deceptions” — and another company vice president.

“Phillip is a bully to those he deems lesser than himself and a bootlicker to those he thinks are rich, powerful and would help him advance in social circles,” Scott wrote in his statement. “Obsessed with building the ‘Phillip B. Albert Brand,’ Phillip stripped the company of its profits to donate to politicians and charities that he hoped would help elevate his stature in the state of Oklahoma. Phillip’s self-promotion, empire building, narcissistic tendencies and bullying manner led to the loss of long-time key personnel which led to an experience drain on the company, only further damaging the morale and profitability.”

In his statement (embedded below), Steve Parduhn described the founding of Pelco Structural in 2005.

“Phil Albert entered our lives when he targeted and leeched onto Pelco Products President Phil Parduhn,” Steve Parduhn wrote. “Little did we know Albert was a sycophant and a liar of pathological proportion. After meeting Phil Albert for the first time, my wife shared her negative intuition of him with me and looking back, I deeply regret initially taking him at his word.”

Parduhn said Albert was “dishonest and deceptive regarding the circumstances as to why he pursued my dad and our company.” Before he partnered with Phil Parduhn to run Pelco Structural, Albert had served as president of JEM Engineering.

“It wasn’t until after Albert had his financial and check signing privileges taken away from him that he left his previous employer of 23 years,” Steve Parduhn wrote. “After that job took a bad turn, Albert targeted my dad as a shortcut to success, which was only the first step of a new premeditated, egotistical and maniacal ruse.”

It took 14 years for the Parduhns to realize how Albert was handling company finances, during which time he lived, traveled and donated lavishly. After an employee presented unusual expense records to the family, Albert was fired from Pelco in early 2019, three years after he had been appointed to the OU Board of Regents and two years after he had served as board chairman of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Albert, an accountant by training who also served on the board of directors for New Dominion LLC and on advisory boards for UMB Bank and BancFirst, had become one of the state’s most prolific donors to political campaigns and charitable causes in the Claremore and Tulsa area.

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.

In his written statement, Parduhn noted a peculiarity about the hulking man who was once appointed to a state task force to study the tax code: He “expected to be addressed” as “Mr. Albert” by all company employees.

“Sadly, Albert wasted no time with improper reimbursement theft which began in the first month of operations,” Parduhn wrote. “For the entire 14 years period that he was employed by Pelco Structural, Albert embezzled and defrauded companies owned by the Parduhn family.”

Parduhn said the family’s “losses were significant.”

“A thorough forensic accounting audit with additional investigation by myself and others points to a theft amount exceeding $10 million,” Parduhn wrote. “Our investigations discovered a fictitious Work-in-Process account that was elaborately concealed, password protected and accessible to only Albert and the accountant he hired. That single account alone had over $7.5 million of illegal payments to himself, reimbursements and items that benefited him that he wanted to conceal.”

Now, five years after the Parduhns fired Albert and reported his actions to federal law enforcement, Steve Parduhn described the “painstakingly long road that brought us here.”

“There’s hardly a day when I wake up not thinking about this case and whether there will ever be accountability and justice,” he wrote.

‘Need for self-promotion, power and influence’

Phil Albert shakes the hand of then-OU President David Boren following a Senate committee vote for Albert’s confirmation to the OU Board of Regents on Monday, March 28, 2016. (Pelco Structural)

While civil litigation had highlighted the embezzlement allegations against him three years prior, Phil Albert only resigned from the OU Board of Regents in 2022, one year shy of completing his seven-year term.

During his time on the board that governs OU, Rogers State University and Cameron University, Albert reviewed the two Jones Day investigatory reports into alleged financial and serial sexual misconduct by former OU President David Boren. Regents have refused to release the reports or discuss their findings.

According to one person with direct knowledge of the situation, Albert and Boren became close, with Albert receiving an invitation to accompany Boren as his guest to Washington’s exclusive Alfalfa Club, whose members — including Boren — comprise some of the richest and most influential people in the world.

“Albert’s illegal scheme and resulting theft was motivated by the need for self-promotion, power and influence,” Steve Parduhn wrote in his victim impact statement. “Albert knew what he was doing, how he would do it, why he was doing it (and) that it was illegal. (…) This all worked to his benefit, until he was caught in the act and fired.”

During the years he was taking hidden reimbursements from Pelco, Albert also served on the board of New Dominion LLC, a petroleum production company founded by his brother-in-law, David Chernicky, and run by CEO Kevin Easley, a former state senator and former CEO of the Grand River Dam Authority.

Easley left GRDA in 2011 while state auditors were examining the public power utility’s large contracts with Pelco Structural. Chernicky served on GRDA’s board but did not disclose his business or familial relationships with Albert, auditors found. Easley departed GRDA in April and started at Chernicky’s company in June.

Four years later, a high-profile lawsuit alleged financial misconduct by Chernicky, Easley and New Dominion board members like Albert. In a separate matter, New Dominion settled a class-action lawsuit alleging that 2011 earthquakes near Prague had been caused by the company’s hydraulic fracturing operations.

On Monday, Parduhn asked the judge to give Albert the “maximum” prison sentence, supervision term, monetary penalties and restitution requirements allowed under federal law. For tax evasion, the maximum sentence is five years imprisonment and a $100,000 fine.

As part of his 2023 plea agreement, Albert was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the IRS and more than $2.6 million in restitution to Pelco, according to court documents.

In their seven-page sentencing memorandum filed with the court, federal prosecutors questioned the validity of claims in the defendant’s apology video because “Albert lied often.”

“Albert says in his apology video that he always intended to pay back the stolen money to the company,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Duncomb wrote. “This self-serving revelation, submitted for the first time three weeks before his sentencing, finds no support in the record.”

During Monday’s hearing, Duncomb encouraged the judge to be skeptical of Albert’s claims.

“This was not one mistake in an otherwise blameless life,” Duncomb said. “(He thought) ‘I’m a powerful person with powerful friends. It’ll be alright.’

“He recommitted himself to fraud again and again and again.”

Read Steve Parduhn’s victim impact statement

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(Update: This article was updated at 7:55 p.m. Monday, March 25, to include additional information. It was updated again at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 26, to include Scott’s victim impact statement and to remove an error regarding attorney representation.)