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Ethics Commission closes Greitens case after Richardson declines to prosecute

Ethics Commission closes Greitens case after Richardson declines to prosecute

August 17th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Missouri News

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens takes questions Jan. 22, 2018 during a press conference at the State Capitol.

Photo by Emil Lippe /News Tribune.

Even though the Missouri Ethics Commission had found "reasonable grounds" to believe former Gov. Eric Greitens, his Greitens for Missouri campaign committee or former campaign employee Daniel Laub had violated criminal law, the commission reported Friday that Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson said he found no reason to file criminal charges in the case.

So, the commission said — in a letter addressed to Greitens and the campaign, and posted on its website — it can't take any action on a complaint that Greitens and the campaign filed a false ethics report last year.

However, the commission noted in that letter, written by new Executive Director Elizabeth Ziegler, state law allows for criminal prosecution up to three years after the alleged offense.

In June, the commission's four current members "found reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of criminal law had occurred," and referred the issue to Richardson's office as state law requires.

Roy Temple, a former state Democratic Party chairman, filed the complaint, and said in a statement Friday afternoon: "I'm pleased that the Missouri Ethics Commission took their job seriously and found reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of criminal law had occurred. However, I am disappointed that the Cole County prosecutor declined to do his job by failing to prosecute the case. Fortunately, there will be a new prosecutor in Cole County soon who can review the case, before the statute of limitations has run."

Challenger Locke Thompson defeated Richardson's re-election bid in last week's Republican primary for the prosecutor's office. Thompson will face Democrat D.K. Hirner in the Nov. 6 general election.

State law allows prosecutors to review cases at any time, and the commission would not be required to resubmit its request for the Cole County prosecutor's office to take another look at it.

The commission was acting on its staff's investigation of Temple's complaint that Greitens and the campaign filed a false report in April 2017, when they amended their April 2015 campaign finance report to show that Laub had given a donor list from The Mission Continues to the future governor's campaign committee as an "in-kind" donation, "at a date uncertain but believed to be in early 2015."

The Mission Continues is a veterans service charity Greitens helped found in 2007 — and its officials have maintained it gave no permission for the list to be used outside its own fundraising operations.

On April 28, 2017, the Ethics Commission fined the Greitens campaign $1,000 for failing to follow the campaign finance law properly but said it would accept $100 as the total payment if there were no further violations of the law.

However, the consent order said: "If either (Greitens or his committee) commits any further violation or violations of the (campaign finance) laws within the two-year period (from April 28, 2017), then (they) will be required to pay the remainder of the fee."

The consent order and the fine were the result of a complaint to the six-member Ethics Commission that the Greitens campaign's use of the donor list had not been reported properly.

The House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight endorsed that claim in a report issued in early May.

The committee's chairman, state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said in May: "The report shows the governor took advantage of a charity that works hard to take care of our veterans. The committee found that the Mission Continues was the true owner of the fundraising list and its property was taken without permission and used inappropriately for political gain."

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner in April filed a criminal charge against Greitens — tampering with a computer — for taking the donor list without the charity's permission. But she dismissed that case in June, as part of an agreement with Greitens to drop the charge if the governor resigned from his office — which he did June 1.

The bipartisan Ethics Commission is supposed to have six members, but currently has only four because Greitens didn't fill vacancies before he left office.

And it doesn't have any power to file criminal charges.

If at least four commissioners think a criminal law was committed, the commission must refer its case to the local prosecutor.

Ziegler noted state law then requires the prosecutor either to file a charge within 60 days, or provide the commission with a written statement explaining "why criminal charges should not be sought."

On Aug. 9, Richardson told the Ethics Commission in a one-page letter: "I have determined that no prosecution should be sought in this matter."

He said he'd "reviewed the materials submitted" by the commission in June, and "considered additional information (that) is not contained in the materials submitted with the referral."

He said his own investigation determined: "There is no evidence from which I have been able to find that the reporting of the date of the contribution was received was a knowing or willful misrepresentation. I have also determined the reported date was not material to the filing."

Richardson didn't respond to a News Tribune request to provide more comment for this story.