Preliminary hearing continues for state insurance commissioner

Friday, July 16th 2004, 10:46 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A charity operated by state Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher and his assistant, Opal Ellis, was never properly registered with the secretary of state's office, a clerk with that office testified Friday at a preliminary hearing for the pair.

Fisher and Ellis are facing felony charges of illegally operating a charity that was created to buy shoes for needy children. They also face embezzlement charges for allegedly depositing into Ellis' personal bank account money from an education fund for the insurance industry.

The preliminary hearing, which began Wednesday, is to determine whether there is enough evidence to bring the case to a criminal trial.

Sandra Preston, the clerk, testified that as recently as July 12 there was no record of the Fisher Foundation being a registered charity with the state of Oklahoma.

"I was searching to see if they had filed as a charity," she said. "They have not."

Several insurance industry representatives testified Friday morning about donations they made to the charity, the Fisher Foundation.

Phil Combs, an insurance claims adjustor with GHS Property Casualty, testified he organized golf tournaments to raise money for the foundation in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Combs said the tournaments raised more than $21,000 for the charity during the three-year period.

Two employees with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Insurance Company testified they helped coordinate an employee fund-raiser to generate money for the Fisher Foundation.

Combs and the two employees all testified they never received a receipt for the contributions to the foundation.

However, defense attorneys contend canceled checks for donations constitute a legal receipt.

"The Internal Revenue Service and the state Tax Commission both recognized canceled checks as receipts," said Irven Box, Fisher's defense attorney.

The hearing was adjourned for the day at noon and was to continue on Sept. 8.

Box said after the hearing that Fisher made several attempts to register the charity with the state.

"We think the statute is real vague about the registration and we'll approach that at the appropriate time," he said.

Fisher said he was confident he would be exonerated.

"I wouldn't accept anything less than a full apology from the attorney general's office," he said.

Prosecutors said they believe the evidence presented against Fisher and Ellis fully supports the charges in the case.

"I have no reason to be sorry or to question the charges that have been brought by the state of Oklahoma," said Assistant Attorney General Joel-lyn McCormick when told of Fisher's comment regarding an apology.

Meanwhile, Fisher signed a notice earlier this week that he won't testify before a special legislative committee that is considering his impeachment.

Fisher indicated he would invoke his 5th Amendment right and not make statements that would incriminate himself.

The House committee had planned to subpoena Fisher, a candidate for an open U.S. Senate seat.