JeffCo Gets Attention from Statewide Candidates

20 Jul

A number of GOP candidates for statewide office have made appearances in Jefferson County recently. As the 7th largest county in Missouri (including STL City in that tally), one that is trending Republican, and one that arguably put Donald Trump over the top in the Missouri presidential primary, it is appropriate that we are being courted as the August 2 primary approaches. Here is a list of recent and upcoming candidate events, and I encourage to you check these events out. You can meet the candidates face to face, ask questions, and perhaps even get some free food. If there are any other events going on (even on the Democratic side) let me know and I will help publicize them.

July 24 – Secretary of State candidate Will Kraus* ice cream social, Fred Lang Park in Arnold, 7 pm

July 22 – Governor candidate Catherine Hanaway will be in Crystal City

July 20 (today) – US Senator Roy Blunt is in Fenton

July 19 – Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft had a Grand Old Picnic at Arnold Park

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July 16 – Governor candidate Eric Greitens* was at Surdyke Harley in Festus

July 14 – Governor candidate John Brunner was at Arnold City Hall

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July 14 – Governor candidate Peter Kinder was at the Windsor Branch of Jefferson Library

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July 9 – Brunner was at the home of county treasurer candidate Ken Horton in Fenton

July 8 – Kraus* was at Big Carl’s BBQ in Imperial

February 19 – Blunt was in Arnold

December 10 – Brunner was at Big Carl’s

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An * denotes a candidate that I have endorsed

JeffCo Sheriff Candidate Refuses to Condone Special Treatment

17 Jul

I came across an incident from 2004 that is highly relevant to the current GOP primary race for Jefferson County Sheriff. It involves something that is not all that rare, a high profile person being let off the hook after being caught driving drunk. But Sean Cooper, then a Festus cop and now a sheriff candidate, chose not to play along.

Drawing from contemporary news reports and the lawsuit filed by Cooper, here are the allegations in the case:

One night in March 2004 when he was on duty, Cooper states that he was warned by a fellow officer, Sgt. William Stewart, that Festus municipal judge Michael Lowry was driving around drunk in his new black Lincoln. Shortly thereafter, Cooper followed a Crystal City officer to the scene of an accident involving…a black Lincoln. Stewart was already there.

Stewart asked the Crystal City cop to handle the incident, but the latter said no because Lowry filled in as a judge in Crystal City sometimes. He suggested bringing in the Highway Patrol. Stewart allegedly declined, remained in charge, and suggested to the driver of the other vehicle in the accident that she might lose her license because she had no proof of insurance. The driver then left the scene, making no accident report.

cooper suit festus 1-10-05

Post-Dispatch article from January 10, 2005 on the Lowry incident and Cooper’s lawsuit.

Then Festus police chief Tim Lewis, who is still the chief, showed up and drove Lowry home. No charges were filed, no arrrests made, and no police report was filed.

Cooper reported this incident to his superiors and to a Festus councilman. Cooper also met with the mayor. Two months later, some sort of investigative hearing was held with Cooper, the mayor, and several councilmen. Cooper tape recorded his testimony at the hearing, and they knew this was happening. He even turned over the tape to a councilman upon his request.

Despite assurances by the mayor and council members that his job was not in jeopardy and that he was protected as a whistleblower, Cooper was fired by Chief Lewis shortly after the hearing. The investigation into the Lowry incident was dropped and no action was taken. Lowry, however, who denied he was intoxicated, resigned as city judge after this, supposedly for unrelated reasons.

The official reason for Cooper’s firing was that he tape recorded that hearing, and general orders prohibit recording city employees without consent. But Cooper did not record employees, he recorded his own comments to elected officials. This reminds me of a recent Defense Department case in which an analyst who spoke out against political manipulation of intelligence about ISIS was suspended and reassignedfor swearing. Any excuse to get rid of a whistleblower. That DOD analyst won her appeal and got her job back, though.

Festus also tried to claim that Crystal City actually took charge of the Lowry incident, but Crystal City chief Doug Ruess denied this.

Cooper Sues

Cooper filed a federal lawsuit against the city over his firing in November 2004. In the end, Cooper won a $55,000 settlement from the city. According to Stewart’s LinkedIn page, he still works for the Festus police, though his name is not listed in the police email directory.

What We Need

In a time when cronyism is rampant, trust in police is impaired, and the Missouri municipal court system is seen as corrupt, we need a guy like Sean Cooper with ethics, and the courage to follow them, as our next JeffCo sheriff. It would send a message that voters want the same rules to apply to everyone when it comes to the law. Here’s what Cooper says on his website:

First, I will not tolerate any ethical misconduct. This is deeply rooted in the core of my being, and the reason why I became a whistleblower concerning law enforcement related corruption in the spring of 2004.

Honor is a word that its definition is best seen in a life lived of courage, respect, integrity and honesty.  The character of a man will follow him to his grave, but the respect spoken of his name afterward reveals the life he lived.

August GOP Primary Endorsements

15 Jul

For what they are worth, here are my picks for the August 2 GOP primary election. There are several interesting races with big contrasts, so this is one worth showing up for. I omitted the US Senate and House races (though I think anti-incumbent message votes may be appropriate) and the associate judge race from this listing.

Governor: Eric Greitens.  He has an accomplished record of military service, charitable service, leadership, and international experience. He has made cleaning up Missouri politics a major point of his campaign, and some tactics we’ve seen in this campaign show how much that is needed. While some question his conservatism, as he was a Democrat in the past, he has explained why he converted, and I see no reason to doubt him. The perfect replacement for bumbling governor Nixon and his lack of leadership.

Lt. Governor: Bev Randles. I like her record with the Missouri Club for Growth, where she was elbows deep in Missouri issues and the conservative solutions we need to enact.  Along with Greitens, she is another fresh, inspirational face in Missouri politics. Her opponent, Mike Parson, has received lots of lobbyist gifts and helped fight ethics reform in the state Senate this year.

Attorney General: Josh Hawley. He has been the subject of vicious, totally bogus attacks from opponent Kurt Schaefer. Former Senator Jack Danforth said one such attack was “an intentional and malicious misstatement of fact.” Let’s not reward such attacks. Hawley’s harshest attack is that Schaefer is a moderate, since that’s what he once called himself. Hawley is a constitutional lawyer who teaches at Mizzou and worked on the Hobby Lobby Obamacare case.

Secretary of State: Will Kraus. A senator with a solid record who serves in the Missouri National Guard and led the push for a voter ID law, part of which is ready for a veto override and part of which will be on the November ballot. His opponent, Jay Ashcroft, seems to have used his name and connections to travel from big defense contractor to big shot law firm during his career. I’m not a big fan of political legacies.

JeffCo Sheriff: Sean Cooper. I think the JeffCo Sheriff’s Office is ready for some outside leadership after the long reign of Glenn Boyer. Cooper is the only candidate who does not currently work for the JeffCo sheriff. He showed high courage and integrity when he was a Festus cop a decade ago after a drunken driving incident involving a judge that he refused to help cover up (I will write about this shortly). He has also expressed strong support for constitutional rights. He is currently second in command to the sheriff in Madison County.

JeffCo Treasurer: Mark Paul. I think he has best articulated his goals for transparency and efficiency in this office, recognizing the limits of the office’s powers but pledging to do what he can to improve its operations. One of his opponents, Ken Horton, won this primary in 2012 against county executive Ken Waller’s wife Trina, but lost the general election by 1,600 votes.

JeffCo Assessor: Bob Boyer. He has a record of small government conservatism on the county council, and he will bring this to the assessor’s office.

County Council District 4: Charles Groteke. This is close to a toss up, but I think Groeteke is working harder in this race, and opponent George Engelbach has been missing meetings in recent months. The winner of this matchup will have to face a harsh, perhaps underhanded campaign from former legislator Jeff Roorda in November, and I think Groeteke will be best equipped for that. This is a rematch of 2012, when Groeteke was the incumbent and lost to Engelbach by 4 votes.

Council District 6: Kevin Weaver. I like his focus on business and jobs.

House District 111: Jason Jarvis. I am not that impressed with incumbent representative Shane Roden, who focuses mainly on niche issues like motorcycle helmets and saying the pledge in schools. Jarvis has wide experience, and he is focused on serious issues like heroin and business.

Prop V (in the county and various cities): Yes. This just levels the playing field between in-state and out-of-state car dealers in terms of sales taxes paid.

 

JeffCo Reps and the United for Missouri Scorecard

7 Jul

United for Missouri, a conservative organization, has released its 2016 Legislative Scorecard, in which it ranks representatives based on their votes on selected bills. Rep. Rob Vescovo (R, 112th district, Arnold) received a 99.9% score from the group (he missed some of the votes, so he did not reach 100%). I will look at how the rest of the JeffCo delegation was rated.

United for Missouri (UfM) “is committed to educating and mobilizing citizens about the impact of limited government and economic policy on the state and the impact of the federal government exceeding its Constitutional limits on achieving growth, opportunity and prosperity.” It selected 19 bills from the 2016 session that fit within this mission, and tallied how each legislator voted. Here’s how Jefferson County’s House members fared:

  • Rob Vescovo, R, 112 – 99.9%
  • Shane Roden, R, 111 – 90.3%
  • John McCaherty, R, 97 – 88.7%
  • Dan Shaul, R, 113 – 84.0%
  • Becky Ruth, R, 114 – 73.3%
  • Elaine Gannon, R, 115 – 70.7%
  • Ben Harris, D, 118 – 24.0%

Here is UfM’s list of bills. It includes voter ID, paycheck protection, ethics bills, court reforms, a gas tax hike, and a prescription monitoring database. The bills are weighted, so for example, Gannon got four votes “wrong,” but one of them was paycheck protection, which had UfM’s highest weighting. Roden missed on two votes; one for data storage center tax breaks (he voted yes; UfM doesn’t like targeted tax breaks), and one for the ethanol subsidy. Four House members received 100% scores, and two got 99.9%.

In the Senate, three GOP members scored 100%, including two that are running for higher office (Will Kraus for Secretary of State and Kurt Schaefer for Attorney General). Missouri’s senators scored as follows:

  • Paul Wieland, R, 22 – 94.7%
  • Gary Romine, R, 3 – 73.5%

Wieland got one vote “wrong” – he voted for the gas tax increase (which was not enacted).

These numbers probably aren’t too surprising to anyone that follows our legislators, but it’s interesting to see their voting records quantified.

 

Politics Must Be Considered in JeffCo Clerk Proposal

25 Jun

Jefferson County Clerk Wes Wagner, a Democrat, is proposing that the office be changed from an elected one to a system like St. Louis County, with a board appointed by the governor that hires two election directors (one Democrat, one Republican) to run elections for the county. Wagner says in the May 26 Leader that politics are not the motivation for this. It is clear, however, that they give him a strong incentive to get this change approved.

Wagner has been elected county clerk three times, in 2006, 2010, and 2014. In 2006, he won with 56% of the vote, in 2010 he was unopposed, and in 2014 he received 50% of the vote, defeating 2nd place candidate Jeremy Day by 2,500 votes in a 3-man race. Given the electoral trends in the county, it is quite possible that Wagner could find himself on the losing end in 2018.

If the change he is requesting is made, though, he can reasonably expect to be hired as the Democratic election director. That would be a job that would likely offer the same pay as now, but with duties shared between him and a co-director (and all the non-election clerk duties transferred to others). It would also offer pretty good job security. But comments from county council chairwoman Renee Reuter suggest that this idea will not be approved by the council (which would trigger a public vote) this year.

Granted, Wagner has proposed this idea in the past, and it may have some merits, though it would cost more and put the governor in ultimate control. In addition, St. Louis County, which uses this system, had serious issues at the April municipal election.

In denying the existence of political motivation, Wagner says he is confident that he will be re-elected in 2018 if he chooses to run (but all politicians say that). However, in a rank bit of cynicism, he says:

[I]f I were that concerned about party affiliation, I could just switch parties and file as a Republican.

He must think GOP voters are pretty dumb then, that they would just accept that a guy who has been elected clerk three times as a Democrat, was elected to the state House of Representatives four times as a Democrat, and whose dad was elected as a Democrat to be circuit clerk for 30 years, can just call himself a Republican right before the election and win over the party’s voters.

JeffCo Sheriff Asset Seizures Spike in 2015

23 Jun

Asset forfeiture is an issue that has been in the news lately. This occurs when law enforcement agencies take property from people suspected of a crime. “Suspected” is the key word here because often, no criminal conviction is required. The Washington Post did a big series on this in 2014:

Mandrel Stuart, a 35-year-old African American owner of a small barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Va., was stunned when police took $17,550 from him during a stop in 2012 for a minor traffic infraction on Interstate 66 in Fairfax. He rejected a settlement with the government for half of his money and demanded a jury trial. He eventually got his money back but lost his business because he didn’t have the cash to pay his overhead.

The Institute for Justice gave Missouri a B+ for its asset forfeiture laws, with these reasons:

  • Conviction required, but low bar to connect property to the crime
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement [this takes away police incentives to take money under questionable justification]

However, if law enforcement agencies cooperate with federal agencies to seize property, they can get around state laws, and they then get to share the seized proceeds with the federal government. The state auditor releases an annual list of property seized under both federal programs and under state law. Jefferson County was ranked quite high in both listings in 2015.

Federal Seizures

According to the auditor’s report, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) ranked 2nd in the state in 2015 in “Total Value of Items Seized and Turned Over to the Federal Forfeiture System,” with a total of $1,760,410. JCSO received $118,696 that year through equitable sharing. For comparison, JeffCo is the 7th largest county in the state by population (counting the city of St. Louis as a county). St. Louis and Kansas City are the only Missouri cities that have more people than JeffCo. Keep in mind, too that the JCSO only covers the unincorporated part of the county. The number one asset seizer in Missouri was the Phelps County Prosecutor’s Office (Rolla is here), which took $2,227,153 and got to keep $119,684. Here are totals from some other entities, for comparison:

  • St. Louis city: $88,786 turned over to feds; $489,271 in received funds
  • St. Louis County: $217,150; $1,226,624
  • Jackson County: $0; $85,480
  • Kansas City: $1,937; $432,422

I’m not sure how these entities brought in so much money while sending little to none to the feds. It may be that some of the receipts came from seizures in 2014, and it just took a long time for payment to be made. The latter three agencies turned over more money to the feds in 2014 than in 2015.

In total, Missouri law enforcement agencies turned $8,438,434 to the feds, meaning that JeffCo made up 21% of the state’s total. In 2014, JeffCo turned over only $9,088, a mere 0.1% of the state’s total. Why the big increase? We don’t have specifics on these cases, so we don’t know how much money was seized from individuals not convicted of any crimes, but it is something the JCSO, which has exhibited a limited respect for the Constitution, should answer for. Are they trying to bring in extra money to get around limits placed by the county council? In 2013, $131,223 was turned over to the feds, and JCSO received $138,608.

Also of note, the city of Arnold’s seizures were $0 in 2015, compared to $1,388,828 turned over to the feds in 2014.

State Seizures

The statue auditor also released a report on asset seizures performed under state law, which as a reminder, requires a criminal conviction. In 2015, Jefferson County reported $232,812 in seizures, ranking 7th in the state, behind Franklin, Jackson, Phelps (which had over $2 million), St. Charles, and St. Louis counties and St. Louis City. JeffCo made up 4% of the state’s $6 million total. Of JeffCo’s total seizures, $46,097 was returned to the property owner.

County prosecutors, who are responsible for reporting this state seizure data to the state auditor, are required to report the following information: date, time, and place of the seizure; property seized; estimated value of the property seized; person(s) from whom the property was seized; criminal charges filed; and disposition of the seizure/forfeiture, and disposition of criminal actions. Like all of the large-seizure entities, JeffCo reporting nearly all of the required data, except for two items – charges filed and disposition of charges. JeffCo reported what charges were filed for only 12 of its 35 seizure cases, and the disposition of charges in only 15 cases. This would suggest that perhaps JeffCo should be returning more money to property owners, if it isn’t filing charges, as state law requires.

Of the $6 million that was seized in under state law, over half was transferred to a federal agency, including over half of the money seized in JeffCo. It is not clear to me why that is done. One would think that if a federal agency was involved that the items would have been seized under the federal rules, not the state rules.

In 2014, JeffCo seized only $69,629 under state law. So in 2015, the JCSO seized a lot more money, through both programs, than in 2014.

Negative Correlation with Meth Busts

One might think that an increase in asset seizures might occur if there was an increase in meth lab busts. But, in fact, those are on the decline. Here are recent meth lab bust numbers for JeffCo:

  • 2013 – 223
  • 2014 – 205
  • 2015 – 127
  • 2016 (Jan – Apr) – 22

What About JCMEG?

In 2013, Jefferson County Municipal Enforcement Group (JCMEG) – a multi-jurisdictional drug task force based in Jefferson County- was one of seven entities that did not file the required reports with the state despite being involved in seizures.

In 2014, Aaron Malin from Show-Me Cannabis tried to find out what was happening with the JCMEG. He submitted a Sunshine request, but did not receive a very helpful response from the organization.

In 2014 and 2015, JCMEG filed the required information, but reported no assets seized and turned over to the federal government. The state seizure reports give one number for the county – it is not broken down between JCSO and JCMEG.

New Sheriff in Town

In November, JeffCo voters will be electing a new sheriff for the first time since 1992, as Glenn Boyer is retiring. One Democrat, current 2nd in command Steve Meinberg, and three Republicans, current JCSO employees Dave Marshak and Ron Arnhart and Madison County Sheriff 2nd in command Sean Cooper, are running to replace him. What do these candidates think about asset forfeiture in cases where no charges have been brought and no conviction won? Perhaps you should ask them if you see them on the campaign trail. And ask the three candidates who currently work in the JCSO what happened in 2015 to make seizures increase so significantly.

Wegge in the Spotlight Over Critchlow Crimes

11 Jun

Update: How about federal wire fraud charges for submitting fraudulent income data to the state retirement system over the internet, as the former St. Joseph superintendent was charged with?

Jefferson County Prosecutor Forrest Wegge has three Critchlow cases on his plate right now. Everyone knows about the Fox scandal (currently under review by Wegge’s office) and Jamie Critchlow’s latest DWI (case in progress, being handled by assistant prosecutor Thomas Hollingsworth), but Wegge’s office will also be defending the state Department of Revenue in Jamie’s petition to have his drivers license revocation overturned.

Wegge, a Democrat, was first elected as JeffCo Prosecuting Attorney in 2006. He won re-election unopposed in 2010 and 2014. He is two years away from having to face voters again, should he choose to run for another term. Given the Republican shift in the county, one would think a challenger will emerge in 2018.

The Critchlow Fox case may be the biggest one of Wegge’s tenure. Public interest and anger here are very high. You might say, oh, murder is a bigger deal than this, but murder is a black-and-white thing – somebody was killed or they weren’t – and most murderers around here are rather easy to identify (Amanda Jones case notwithstanding, though the culprit seems clear). In this case, the number of charges, the type of charges, and the number of people charged are open questions that are up to prosecutor discretion. Disgraced former Fox C-6 school district superintendent Dianne Critchlow could be charged with a number of offenses. Here are the potential broken laws that I can find, based on my reading of the law and the facts of the case (note: I am not a lawyer):

  • Felony stealing (B felony if over $25,000 stolen – multiple counts possible here)
  • Official misconduct (misdemeanor)
  • Fraudulent use of a credit device (felony if over $500 stolen within 30 days)
  • Fraudulent use of facsimile signature or seal (felony, 2-10 years jail). I’m not sure if this applies. We know she made unauthorized use of facsimile signatures on her contracts, but did she do so on “a public security or an instrument of payment?”
  • Tampering with physical evidence – felony in this case. Fox CFO John Brazeal said that several district employees destroyed electronic records and that former CFO Mark McCutchen shredded documents. Did Dianne do this or order others to do so?
  • Probably something securities related, having to do with the misuse of bond proceeeds that Brazeal reported in August 2014. While it noted the district’s failures in bond issuance, the auditor’s report did not mention anything about how bond proceeds were used.
  • Possibly something related to tax fraud due to unreported income, but I think this is mostly the district’s problem (this is related primarily to Critchlow’s vehicle mileage).

Let me know if you have other ideas for charges against Dianne.

Watch for how many counts Dianne gets charged with (assuming she gets charged – if not, it may be tar and feathers time). Also, McCutchen should get charged for at least tampering for his paper shredding. His role in all this has not been fully explored, and only at trial will this happen. Perhaps McCutchen will take a deal and testify against Dianne.

Jamie Critchlow could be charged with receiving stolen property, a felony; he surely knew what was going on. Could anyone else be charged? Several board members and administrators received scholarships for their kids or jobs for their relatives. Was there any quid pro quo? Other assistant superintendents made questionable credit card charges. What about former CFO James Berblinger? The district points fingers at him in the audit response, but Fox seems to allege incompetence, not malice.

A plea deal for Dianne is a possibility, but I think this needs to go to trial. Let’s hear all the details about what went on at Fox. Let’s see what defense she puts on. Her lawyer’s few media statements have been along the lines of “the board approved everything she did.” Do any former administrators or board members testify on her behalf? Or against her? I assume Dianne won’t testify, but you never know.

Jamie’s DWI

In addition, Jamie has been charged with aggravated DWI (a felony worth up to 7 years in jail) and misdemeanor leaving the scene of an accident (up to a year in jail) for an incident on May 30. One wonders why he was not charged with felony leaving the scene, though, since did this before (at his January 2015 Arnold DWI) and thus is eligible for a felony charge. Critchlow plead out his two recent Missouri DWIs; will he fight this one? He is already on probation, and this is his first felony, so there is a lot more at stake this time around.

As is his modus operandi, Jamie refused a breath test when arrested on the 30th, which means an automatic one year revocation of one’s drivers license (notably, Arnold police did not do blood tests at either arrest, while Iron County did perform one, revealing a 0.28 blood alcohol level in July 2014). The revocation can be challenged in court, and Critchlow is doing just that. While his suit in this matter is against the state Department of Revenue, which controls drivers licenses, state law requires the county prosecutor to appear in court on behalf of the DOR. At the hearing, the prosecutor must satisfy the court that the police had reasonable grounds to stop Critchlow and believe he was drunk in order to uphold the license revocation. Interestingly, Critchlow’s lawyer has already moved to have the assigned judge, Tony Manansala, removed from the case.

How will Wegge’s office handle these cases? The answer will determine what kind of justice gets served, and perhaps also if Wegge has any shot at re-election.

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