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Statement by SPJ President Dana Neuts regarding sentencing of Scott Cooper, former SPJ Oklahoma chapter treasurer


November 14, 2014

Dana Neuts, SPJ National President, 360.920.1737 (PDT), dneuts@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317.361.4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased that a judge has ordered Scott Cooper, former SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter secretary-treasurer and Region 8 director, to serve jail time and repay the more than $40,000 he embezzled from the chapter.

Judge Greg Dixon of Cleveland County District Court ordered Cooper pay $350 per month for the next 10 years back to the SPJ chapter. Cooper also received 10 years of deferred probation, must spend the next four consecutive weekends in jail and beginning Dec. 6 must either serve eight hours of community service or work a second job for at least eight hours every weekend.

In a resignation letter sent to the chapter’s board of directors in May 2012, Cooper said he took money by writing 36 checks, he estimated, varying from $100 to $2,000, from the chapter’s bank account to himself. He used the money to gamble at a casino and pay his personal bills, he wrote. His sentence also forbids him from entering any casino.

Cooper had a fiduciary responsibility to put the needs of the organization above his own, but unlike other board members who took an oath to serve SPJ, he violated that responsibility and his oath. Instead, he put his personal interest first, stealing money to cover his gambling debts and pay his personal bills.

Cooper stole more than $43,000 from the local SPJ chapter, but he took much more than that. His betrayal hurt the credibility of the local SPJ officers, board members and volunteers. With more than 7,500 members, SPJ is an organization that fights for openness, transparency and accountability. SPJ is known for its ethical standards and its Code of Ethics. Cooper’s actions go against everything SPJ believes in and damaged the name and reputation of the organization in the eyes of some.

After his embezzlement was discovered, SPJ staff and volunteers around the country had to explain how such a serious crime could occur in an organization like ours. We have spent the last two and a half years developing and honing best practices to prevent this from happening again. We have also had to reassure volunteers across the country that this was an isolated incident, and it is not indicative of our national board or regional and local volunteers.

It is my -- and many other SPJ members’ -- hope that Cooper has received help for his gambling problem, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he stole from SPJ and needed to make that right. We are happy to finally have resolution in this matter, knowing that he will repay SPJ in full. SPJ and its members deserve that much.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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