The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Tornado Shelter Company Owner Charged with Embezzlement

Posted: Tuesday, May 02, 2017


For around 30 years, William Jay Stephens has owned Tornado King, Inc., a tornado shelter installation company. In the last few years, however, customers have begun filing complaints against the company for shoddy or incomplete work.

Now, Stephens is charged with multiple counts of embezzlement and one count of engaging in a pattern of criminal offenses.

According to Cleveland County court documents, Stephens, 55, of Muskogee, is accused of collecting money for tornado shelter installation at several homes, but failing to either install the shelters or refund the deposits paid.

Reports say that Stephens collected full or partial payments from customers, some of whom he met through local lawn and garden shows. However, after collecting the money, he failed to do the work, giving excuses for the delay before completely stopping responding to customer calls.

The company owner came under investigation after the state's Attorney General's Office began receiving multiple complaints against Tornado Kink, Inc., which appears to no longer be in business. He is accused of taking more than $41,000 from six customers between February 2016 and April 2016.

Stephens is charged with six counts of embezzlement and one count of engaging in a pattern of criminal offenses. A Cleveland County judge has issued a warrant for his arrest with bond set at $50,000.

"Engaging in a pattern of criminal offenses" is a felony defined as follows in 21 O.S. § 425:

  1. Two or more criminal offenses are committed that are part of the same plan, scheme, or adventure; or
  2. A sequence of two or more of the same criminal offenses are committed and are not separated by an interval of more than thirty (30) days between the first and second offense, the second and third, and so on; or
  3. Two or more criminal offenses are committed, each proceeding from or having as an antecedent element a single prior incident or pattern of fraud, robbery, burglary, theft, identity theft, receipt of stolen property, false personation, false pretenses, obtaining property by trick or deception, taking a credit or debit card without consent, or the making, transferring or receiving of a false or fraudulent identification card.

The act is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison, in addition to any penalties associated with the repeated offense.

Embezzlement is punishable according to the value of the property involved (21 O.S. § 1451):

  1. If the value of the property embezzled is less than One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), any person convicted shall be punished by a fine not exceeding One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not more than one (1) year, or by both such fine and imprisonment;
  2. If the value of the property embezzled is One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) or more but less than Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00), any person convicted shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a term of not more than five (5) years, and a fine of not exceeding Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), and ordered to pay restitution to the victim as provided in Section 99lf of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes; or
  3. If the value of the property embezzled is Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00) or more, any person convicted shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a term of not more than ten (10) years, and a fine not exceeding Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00), and ordered to pay restitution to the victim as provided in Section 991 f of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes.

At least one of the alleged victims has filed a lawsuit against the defendant, claiming he gave the man more than $10,000 to install a storm shelter, but the work was never done. 

In 2015, another client sued Tornado King, saying the shelter rusted through and leaked. In that case, a judge awarded the plaintiff $50,000 in a judgement against the company.


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