Chris Morris charged
A Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office truck sits in front of the Pittsburg County Courthouse on Monday, May 13, 2024. (Michael Duncan)

(Update: On Monday, May 20, six days after Sheriff Chris Morris was charged with a felony count of embezzlement, the Pittsburg County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to present the case to a district court judge for consideration of removing Morris from office. The following article remains in its original form.)

A month before his bid for a third term will be decided by voters, Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris was charged Tuesday with a felony count of embezzlement of state property for allegations that he falsified records as part of a scheme to have the county buy a $29,000 utility vehicle he had purchased months earlier.

Dissatisfied with the vehicle because it “had already broken down,” Morris convinced a dealership to sell him a different vehicle once the return and county purchase of the first vehicle had been executed, according court records.

Morris, 50, was elected sheriff in 2016. He denied wrongdoing on his Facebook campaign page shortly after appearing in Pittsburg County District Court for arraignment.

“Election interference is not only happening in our great nation, but it is happening right here in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma,” Morris posted. “I have done absolutely nothing wrong! This is an orchestrated event to make me look bad just weeks before the election, the truth will come out.”

Morris, a Republican, faces challenger Randy Hass in the June 18 GOP primary. The winner will be elected sheriff as there is no opponent in the November general election.

A tale of two utility vehicles

Pittsburg County Clerk Hope Trammell tipped off District Attorney Charles Sullivan to Morris’ personal purchase of a 2023 Polaris utility vehicle, which he then resold in December to the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office.

Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris was charged Tuesday, May 14, 2024, with a felony count of embezzlement of state property. (Provided)

Morris falsely presented the vehicle as new to bypass the state bidding requirements, according to an affidavit (embedded below) filed by Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Mark Drummond.

Tramell contacted the vehicle’s original seller, Vicars Powersports, to confirm the condition of the vehicle, Drummond wrote. Montana Bills, the dealership’s finance manager, said he would have to check on the condition and later sent an email invoice for a new Can-Am utility vehicle that Morris has bought for himself. According to the affidavit, Tramell contacted Bills again to obtain an invoice for the Polaris, and Bills provided her with an invoice indicating the vehicle was new. The invoices showed the same price for both the Polaris and the Cam Am vehicles, according to the affidavit.

Tramell said that when she authorized the purchase for the sheriff’s office, she was under the impression the vehicle was new, Drummond’s affidavit said. After she found out it had previously belonged to Morris, she reported her findings to Sullivan, who recused himself owing to a district attorney’s underlying legal relationship with other county offices. The Attorney General’s Office assigned review of the case to Cherokee and Wagoner County District Attorney Jack Thorp who filed the charge Tuesday.

“Sheriff Morris is presumed innocent,” Thorp said.

In his interview with Drummond, Morris blamed the county clerk’s office for having Vicars Powersports change the invoice from saying “used” to “new” because he knew he was purchasing a used vehicle, the affidavit states.

Affidavit: Morris disliked that vehicle ‘had already broken down’

According to the affidavit, Bills said Morris and Vicars were friends and that Vicars made the deal for Morris to trade the Polaris for the Can-Am and the subsequent purchase of the Polaris by the sheriff’s office.

Vicars told Drummond he made the deal with Morris and that he gave Morris more of a trade-in value for the Polaris because Morris had added a lift kit, aftermarket wheels and tires, and other accessories. Vicars said his company holds a state contract for the purchase of Polaris vehicles and that he knows how the bidding process works, Drummond wrote.

However, Drummond said he discovered that Morris had removed the lift kit, aftermarket tires and wheels and other accessories after making the deal with Vicars. In a follow-up interview, Vicars told Drummond he did not know the accessories had been removed because Morris retained possession of the Polaris and never brought the vehicle back to the dealership before it was transferred to the county, according to the affidavit.

Loyd London III, a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office, told OSBI agents that Morris told him he did not like his Polaris “because it had already broken down and he needed to find a way to get out from under it,” the affidavit said.

Drummond photographed the Polaris in February and observed that the odometer showed 695 miles and the exterior was covered with scratches including damage to the tailgate, according to the affidavit. The windshield was also damaged and cracked.

Morris remained the registered owner of the Polaris until Jan. 17, despite a tendered check from Pittsburg County on Dec. 4, the affidavit states. When Morris and Vicars Powersports submitted documents to change ownership, the odometer section was left blank. An odometer disclosure statement gave a false number of 22 miles. In September, documentation from a warranty repair listed the mileage as 404 miles.

OSBI Special Agent Adam York obtained the original invoice from Polaris Inc. showing the vehicle’s first purchase for a price of $28,952. The vehicle was re-sold to the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office for $31,099, which was above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $30,799, the affidavit said.

Drummond wrote in his affidavit that he obtained records regarding the loan on the Polaris, which showed Morris’ personal loan for the amount of $28,568.38, which was satisfied in December by a new loan for the Can-Am. Morris claimed he needed the loan to refinance the Can-Am. However, the Polaris remained as collateral to secure the loan for six weeks after the sheriff’s office purchased the Polaris. When Drummond confronted Morris with the bank records, Morris told him someone at the bank must have made a mistake, the affidavit states.

During his interview with Drummond, York and Morris’ attorney, the sheriff said he bought the Polaris for his personal use in August. Unsatisfied with the purchase after a few weeks, Morris said he wanted to trade his four-door model for a two-door Can-Am. During this time, Morris said he was still using the Polaris until “something on the rear axle broke” and he brought it in for a warranty repair.

Morris denied that the purchase of the Polaris for the sheriff’s department was connected to his purchase of the Can-Am, according to the affidavit. But Drummond wrote that he discovered an original purchase request for the county to buy the Polaris was made in November.

Four days prior to his arrest, Morris shared a Facebook post inviting potential voters to a meet and greet with him Saturday, May 25. In 2019, Morris changed his political party from Democrat to Republican in the middle of his first term.

In his statement on his campaign Facebook page, Morris asked voters for their support.

“It is paramount that you keep (a) strong sheriff with proven leadership for our county,” he said. “I ask now more than ever for your support, and I ask that all of you stand strong, go vote and keep a constitutional sheriff that knows his duties, stands up for the citizens of Pittsburg County not only as your sheriff, but is not afraid to stand up for what is right and be a voice for the people.”

Chris Morris background

A sign supporting Sheriff Chris Morris stands along a road in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, on Monday, May 13, 2024. (Michael Duncan)

Prior to Morris’ victory in the 2016 sheriff’s race, he served in the McAlester Police Department for 19 years. At the time of the election, he held the position of detective sergeant.

In 2008, Morris was first suspended and then fired from the McAlester Police Department for driving while under the influence of alcohol, failure to signal and failure to stop at a stop sign. He returned to the police force in 2009 after an arbitration hearing in which he was supported by the police union.

During his first term as sheriff, Morris was investigated by the OSBI for an alleged domestic incident at his home in January 2019. Morris denied that the incident occurred, maintaining that there was “no crime and no victim.”

Hass, Morris’ opponent this year, worked as a detective for the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office in the beginning of Morris’ first term. Since 2017, Hass has been working for his company, Hauling Hass Construction.

Read the affidavit against Sheriff Chris Morris

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(Correction: This article was updated at 11:05 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, to correct the spelling of Loyd London III’s name.)