A former top official at The American Legion of Oklahoma is headed to prison for embezzling from fellow veterans to enrich himself.
The former longtime adjutant, David Austin Kellerman, 48, had sought probation at his sentencing Friday after denying — again — any wrongdoing. Instead, a judge ordered him to prison — for three years.
Stunned, Kellerman said, “I’m going to prison, your honor?”
“Yes,” Oklahoma County District Judge Tim Henderson replied.
Turning red, Kellerman pleaded with the judge for time to get his affairs in order.
“No,” the judge said. “Today’s the day. Today’s sentencing.”
Kellerman then asked if he could say goodbye to his 13-year-old son, who was waiting outside the courtroom with a service dog.
“That’s up to the sheriff,” the judge said.
The dramatic exchange was the capstone to an investigation and prosecution that spanned six years and was marked by surprising setbacks. Three times before, Kellerman had been charged as a result of the investigation. Each time, those cases were dropped because of problems, once days before trial.
“Our concerns long ago seemed so far-fetched. No one would believe us,” said Marv Sandbek, a Legion district vice commander in attendance at the sentencing. “But here we are today, after all of these years, six years. And what we know today is that what we were concerned about is real. It’s real. And now we can go about the business of restoring and rebuilding. And we have this behind us.”
Much of the investigation had to be redone by a federal agent when a state investigator turned out to be a fraud who had faked his credentials. Because so much time passed, prosecutors could not charge Kellerman over all of the misused money.
Kellerman was the state Legion adjutant from September 2003 to December 2011. In the paid position, he handled day-to-day operations for the Legion from headquarters in Oklahoma City near the Capitol. He remained active in the Legion in 2012 and 2013, serving as a voluntary assistant to his successors.
The American Legion is a patriotic and politically powerful veterans organization. National officials took over the Oklahoma operations for nine months in 2014 after discovering money was missing. They estimated at the time that as much as $1 million had been embezzled.
In the latest charge, Kellerman was accused of selling loaned ceremonial rifles, pocketing $4,650 from the sale of a closed Legion post, embezzling from the Memorial Poppy fund and embezzling from a Legion bank account.
The evidence against him included bank records showing he used a debit card to withdraw thousands of dollars from ATMs at casinos in 2013.
The sentencing Friday came after Kellerman pleaded no contest in May to two felony embezzlement counts.