Federal judge sentences former Pelco president

Mar. 29—"Actions speak much louder than words."

This turn of phrase was the first paragraph in a front page story, published March 2010, when the Claremore Daily Progress honored Phil Albert as the "Progressive Citizen of the Year."

Fourteen years later to the week, the former president of Pelco Structural is making headlines once again.

On Monday, March 25, "Phillip B. Albert" appeared before U.S. District Judge Terence C. Kern, of the Northern District Court, where he learned he will spend the next 30 months in prison for federal tax evasion, with one year supervised release and an order to pay $3.6 million restitution.

Albert pleaded guilty a year ago, in March 2023, to evading over $1 million in taxes. When he was fired from his leadership post at Pelco in April 2019, he suggested it was all just part of a messy "business divorce."

In a separate but related federal case, Pelco company controller Don Eagleton pleaded guilty to knowingly concealing Albert's fraudulent activity from authorities. Eagleton was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,543,000 in restitution.

Albert has been permitted to remain on bond and ordered to voluntarily surrender on a specific date, to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The cases against Albert and Eagleton were investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation team and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Duncombe and Trial Attorney Meredith M. Havekost of the Justice Department's Tax Division prosecuted Albert's case.

According to court documents, from 2004 through 2021, while serving as president of Pelco Albert directed Eagleton to have the company's payroll service provider issue "reimbursements" to Albert from Pelco, for undocumented expenses. Albert then had the "reimbursements" coded in the company's financial documents in such a way that they would not appear as taxable income. He then "willfully" failed to pay taxes on the "reimbursement" payments, documents show.

Prosecutors pointed out Albert was previously employed as a tax preparer, and given Albert's intelligence and the overall sophistication of the scheme, he knew the requests for "reimbursements" did not relate to any legitimate business expense.

Court records show from 2014 through 2019, Albert's unreported income was $2,615,750, which left him owing more than $1 million in taxes. Because of Albert's theft and related acts of embezzlement during his time at the company, Pelco owners calculate their actual total loss was more than $10 million, without taking into account the loss of business opportunities.

As the Progressive Citizen Award of 2010 suggests, Albert was a celebrated member of the Claremore community for over 14 years. He later served as chairman of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce and as a University of Oklahoma regent until 2023.

"So amiable is the relationship between Pelco Structural LLC and the Claremore community, Pelco recently donated the poles to the city to be used in the renovations of Powers Park, as well as providing the light structures used in downtown Claremore and at the sports arena at Rogers State University," the 2010 Progress story reads.

"Unfortunately there is a misrepresentation in the Claremore community that Phillip is a victim somehow," Matthew Kasey Scott, vice president of sales at Pelco Structural, said. "This man ... was seen in the community as a success and celebrated because of his charitable actions, all the while treating those that worked for him, and helped build the company into the success that it was, as less than and just fortunate to be in his sphere of 'greatness.' This man stole from a Claremore business and partners to build himself up within this community and the state of Oklahoma. Without the stolen monies, Phillip would not have been able to be so generous."

Albert opened Pelco Structural in 2005 with the help of Edmond businessman Phil Parduhn, who served as chairman of Pelco Structural, LLC.

Scott said he is one of five original people who helped Albert start Pelco. In his Victims Impact Statement, Scott wrote he became aware of evidence in early 2019 that showed "Phillip was stealing from the company and myself." Scott said he met with ownership and turned the evidence over on March 6, 2019. In April 2019, Albert was fired.

Albert sat on the Claremore Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He supported local nonprofits and foundations with generous company and personal checks. Campaignmoney.com shows Albert contributed more than $100,000 between 2005 and April 2019 to the campaigns of leading Oklahoma elected officials and political causes across 12 states and Washington, D.C.

Albert's contributions supported Prosperity Oklahoma PAC, ACTBLUE, the Southern Arizona Victory Fund, Boren for Congress, the Inhofe Victory Fund, John Kerry for President, the Mullin Victory Fund, the Cole Combined Committee, Families for James Lankford, the New York GOP Victory Fund, Republicans Inspiring Success & Empowerment Project, Young Guns Day-2014, Patriot Day-2015, and Patriot Victory-2016, among others.

He appeared to have influence on speed-dial and demanded perfection at events he sponsored, down to the choice of table settings and invitation design. The result was a meteoric rise and the building of what was often referred to as the Phil Albert "brand."

In 2016, Albert was featured in an OBU Magazine "Profile in Excellence" article, wherein he was quoted as saying he chose Oklahoma Baptist University as the place to pursue his degree in business and accounting because it was "a Christ-centered community."

His rise to prominence crescendoed with the chairmanship of the Tulsa Chamber and a regent's seat on the OU Board. Then-Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Albert to the seven-year term. The OU Board governs Rogers State University and Cameron University. He continued to serve on the board even after being fired from Pelco and lawsuits and investigations were underway. Fallin had cited his "business acumen" as a qualifying factor for the board.

In January 2017, Albert was featured in Tulsa People as the incoming chairman of the newly branded "regional" Tulsa Chamber. He was described as "a thoughtful man of measured words."

In June 2018, Albert congratulated the Claremore Daily Progress on its 125th anniversary: "I am proud to be growing my business in a community where the newspaper is an active and dynamic partner. ... may the Claremore Progress be the conscience of our community for another 125 years."

In January 2019, Albert accepted the Claremore Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award on behalf of Pelco.

On April 19, 2019, Albert was fired as president of Pelco. His last political contribution of $1,000 was documented on April 3.