Headline: Former Missouri Governor Roger Wilson pleads guilty to illegal use of funds. [Entered: 04/12/2012]
By Sherman Fabes and Matthew Patane
A former Missouri governor was indicted Wednesday, April 11, and pled guilty a day later to federal charges for his involvement hiding the source of a campaign contribution.
Roger Wilson was indicted by a federal grand jury for misappropriation of funds while he was the CEO of Missouri Employers Mutual. He was charged with misdirecting $5,000 from the Missouri Employers Mutual Company (MEM) to refund a political contribution made by an MEM board member to the state Democratic Party.
On Thursday, April 12, Wilson pled guilty to the charges against him. His sentencing is set for July 9. He faces a fine of up to $100,000 and one year in prison.
“I made a mistake. I have taken responsibility for the mistake. I apologize to everyone,” Wilson said in a statement outside the St. Louis federal courthouse after he entered his guilty plea.
Wilson, a former state senator who became chair of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, was elected lieutenant governor in 1996. He became governor of the state in 2000 for three months after the fatal plane crash of Gov. Mel Carnahan.
After leaving office, Wilson became chair of the state Democratic Party and then CEO of MEM, a quasi-government company created by the state to provide health care insurance to businesses for workers’ compensation coverage.
The charge accuses Wilson of complying with a request from a MEM board member to approve a $5,000 bill from the member’s law firm for legal services to MEM which, in fact, were not for legal services but rather to reimburse the law firm for a contribution the firm had made to the state Democratic Party.
Colleagues of Wilson, a former Columbia school administrator, expressed surprise and disappointment — including members of the opposite political party.
“It is a surprise, and a sad one to those of us who know and like Roger. The real question is who put him up to this. This didn’t come from Roger waking up one morning and deciding to start laundering money for the first time in his career,” said GOP Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
The federal charges came after Wilson’s unexplained dismissal from MEM. A subsequent report by Missouri’s state auditor questioning expenditures by the organization had recommended legislators consider whether to convert the agency to a completely private firm.
Legislation for such a conversion are pending before the current session of Missouri’s legislature.
Last week, the Missouri Senate adopted a measure creating a special commission to study MEM. The commission would be charged with submitting recommendations to the General Assembly about whether or not the company should be privatized.
* Get the print story.
* Get the bill, SB 856 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUM∑6 ] .
Headline: State budget sent to Senate floor with freeze on public education funding. [Entered: 04/12/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Missouri’s $24 billion budget was sent to the Senate floor Thursday, April 12, with a near stand-still level funding for public education.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said this was probably the most difficult budget year ever. The budget in the Senate is $86 million below what the House had passed last month, but freezes funding for K-12 and higher education.
Colleges and universities were facing a 15 percent cut under a proposal from Gov. Jay Nixon, but were spared when the House passed its budget last month. The House was able to fund public universities at the same level as last year through a $40 million boost from a national settlement against mortgage companies and cuts to a $28 million health care program for the blind.
Schaefer’s committee also endorsed the House plan to keep funding stable for K-12 education, including a $5 million increase recommended by Nixon. Despite the small increase, the formula for funding local school districts is still below the recommended amount in state law.
The lack of adequate funding means the rural schools without a large local tax base will continue to lose funds disproportionately to suburban schools with higher local revenue.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also kept funding for higher education equal to last year, but it did not go along with the House’s cut to the blind. Schaefer proposed a new plan to fund the 2,800 people who do not qualify for Medicaid benefits.
Schaefer’s proposal would require people on the current program to now pay a $111 premium and a $600 deductible to receive state medical coverage. Those costs are based off the average amount paid by a state employee.
Tax credits have also been a discussion point for the state’s budget. Although the General Assembly has twice failed to cap some of the existing programs, some senators may be looking at the budget to address the issue.
Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said the state could have a lot more money to spend if tax credit programs were reined in and capped. Schaefer said there could be some discussion on the Senate floor, but it would be “outside the scope” of the budget.
Schaefer said it was unrealistic to assume “everybody’s problems are going to be solved by putting in the budget.”
* Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SCBUD.HTM]
* Get the budget tables. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/DATA/BUD13.HTM]
Headline: Missouri’s Senate votes to expand charter schools. [Entered: 04/11/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
On Wednesday, April 11, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill expanding charter schools throughout the state. Currently, charter schools are only allowed in St. Louis City and Kansas City.
The difference between metropolitan, suburban and rural districts has been central to education policy issues such as regulation of charter schools, school funding and allowing students to transfer from unaccredited districts.
Democratic Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal represents a St. Louis County district that stretches from University City to Hazelwood. She spoke against the bill in question saying that, while several St. Louis city senators were in favor of the legislation, it would negatively impact her district.
“St. Louis city school district is nothing like the University City school district,” Chapelle-Nadal said. She said her constituents would be against using their tax money to fund charter schools.
During an exchange with a fellow Democrat, Sen. Joseph Keaveny from St. Louis City, she spoke about how the population shifts out of the city have impacted the county districts. Keaveny was in favor of expanding charter schools, saying that it’s important to keep people in the city by offering more options.
“We lost a significant number of young families because of the quality of education,” Keaveny said. “Charter schools have kept people in the city.”
Meanwhile, legislation to deal with inequities in the state’s school funding formula are stagnating in the legislature.
* Get the print story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CHART.HTM ]
* Get the bill, SB 576 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMW6 ] .
* Get the print story on school funding. [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/FUNDING.HTM ]
* Get the full funding bill, SB 454 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUME4 ] .
Headline: Repairs Begin at the State Capitol [Entered: 04/12/2012]
By Mary McGuire
As decreased state construction funding has put most projects at a standstill, steps at the State Capitol are being repaired.
Construction workers have begun working on costly changes to the exterior of the State Capitol building. The repairs will cost state taxpayers $1,063,000 with an anticipated completion date of November 2012. Stone work, a retaining wall, and changes to the substructure of the stairs will be made, in addition to the replacement of damaged or missing stones.
“The state is investing resources on high-priority projects. We are making sure that essential projects are completed,” said Wanda Seeney, spokesperson for the state’s Office of Administration.
Seeney also said that repair priorities change as storm damage and other necessities become an issue.
The structural safety of the Capitol building has been called into question before. In 1998, a 300-pound piece of rock fell outside of former Governor Mel Carnahan’s office, despite a safety check of the area only 4 months earlier.
* Get the print story.[ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/REPAIR.HTM ]
Headline: Missouri senators weigh in on the Keystone XL Pipeline. [Entered: 04/12/2012]
By Mary McGuire
In a 29-1 vote Tuesday, the Senate approved a resolution urging Congress to approve the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The sponsor of the non-binding resolution Sen. David Pearce, R- Warrensburg, says the pipeline would create at least 10,000 jobs.
The only “no” vote on the resolution came from Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County.
“If there was an earthquake or a natural disaster, and there was a break in the line, it can cause pollution…I am not willing to take that risk,” Chappelle-Nadal said.
The Keystone Pipeline has passed the Republican-controlled United States House, but has met opposition in the Democratic Senate and from President Barack Obama.
* Get the resolution, HCR 37 [ http://www.house.mo.gov/billsummary.aspx?bill=HCR37&year 12&code=R ] .
Headline: Rallies at state Capitol raise awareness for child abuse, poverty [Entered: 04/11/2012]
By Cole Karr and Paige Hornor
On Wednesday, April 11, Missouri parents, teachers and children gathered on the south lawn of the state Capitol with thousands of pinwheels to raise awareness for child abuse.
The rally comes less than one week after the Missouri House voted in favor of making it mandatory to report instances of sexual abuse to state agencies.
Missouri KidsFirst, a child abuse advocacy group, held its third annual Pinwheels for Prevention event Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol. Nearly 4,000 blue pinwheels spun in the breeze, a symbol of child abuse awareness.
Once symbolized with a blue ribbon, the blue pinwheel represents a positive image of prevention, said Pablo Araujo, Prevention and Marketing Coordinator for Missouri KidsFirst. He said the shift from the ribbon to the pinwheel was meant to give an image of positivity, where a ribbon may have given a negative feeling.
Lawmakers joined the crowd at the event, which is part of Child Abuse Prevention month, a national movement that occurs every April.
“As a society, one of our top priorities should be making sure that we value and protect children,” said Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, as he spoke to the crowd. “Education and awareness are critical to prevention. Silence is not an answer.”
On Thursday, April 12, members of Missourians to End Poverty gathered at the Capitol to advocate for the poor.
Advocates were working on initiative petitions to raise the minimum wage and cap payday loans.
A similar petition to limit payday loans was struck down by Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green last week. However, the attorney general’s office said Wednesday that it would appeal that decision. Green said the summary that appears on the ballot misled voters.
Pearl Burks joined the rally and is a grandmother living on social security with three of her grandchildren in St. Louis.
“I would like to see the food stamp program changed. I would like to see the Medicaid program changed…I need to be able to get food stamps for them, but they tell me with my income, it doesn’t go very far, I’m not eligible,” said Burks.
* Get the child abuse rally print story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CHILD.HTM ]
Headline: Lawmakers propose leaving fathers out of adoption decision. [Entered: 04/09/2012]
By Josie Butler
After a six-year custody battle in the Missouri’s court, lawmakers aim to allow an adoption of a child to take place without the father’s consent.
The bill was written in response to a 2007 Supreme Court case.
In 2004, Craig Lentz and girlfriend Ibbaanika Bond had a child. Lentz did not have his name put on the birth certificate because he was waiting for the results of a DNA test to prove he was the father of the child.
Missouri law requires that a father must declare paternity within 15 days of a child’s birth. While waiting to receive the results of the test, the 15 days had passed. After this time, the child was placed in the home of a couple in Texas, for the purpose of adoption. The child was placed temporarily with the Texas family, who filed a petition for transfer of custody and adoption of the child, which stated the father was unknown. Bond agreed to the adoption.
When Lentz was notified of the adoption proceedings, he filed with the putative father registry and an amended birth certificate was issued, listing Lentz as the father. Lentz sought to intervene in the adoption, claiming that he was the father of the child.
The House passed a measure that would allow the adoption of a child to take place without the consent of the father, if he has not previously developed a consistent and substantial relationship with the child.
The definition of “consistent and substantial relationship,” has not been specifically defined in Missouri law. The bill seeks to express clearly the actions a father must take to develop a consistent and substantial relationship.
Under the legislation a father must provide prenatal financial support, child support payments and have consistent contact and visitation with the child.
* Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/PATERN.HTM]
* Get the bill, HB 1258 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM58 ]
Headline: Capitol Perspectives: The Criminals I Have Known [Entered: 04/13/2012]
By: Phill Brooks
Of the politicians and state officials who have faced criminal charges in the decades I’ve covered this place, Roger Wilson seemed one of the least likely candidates for a criminal record.
The former Democratic governor and lieutenant governor pled guilty Thursday, April 12, to federal misdemeanor charges involving an effort to hide the true source of campaign contributions to the Democratic Party through the quasi-governmental insurance organization Missouri Employers Mutual.
The charges were a shock to some of his former colleagues, including Republicans, because as a public official and later chair of the state Democratic Party, Wilson enjoyed a stellar reputation.
“It is a surprise, and a sad one to those of us who know and like Roger. The real question is who put him up to this. This didn’t come from Roger waking up one morning and deciding to start laundering money for the first time in his career,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
Throughout his time in public office, Wilson came across as almost too honest to be an effective politician. About the harshest criticism I’d heard about Wilson was that he was too good-hearted for the rough world of politics. A former school teacher and principal, I cannot recall him ever cursing or bad mouthing an opponent.
Compare that reputation with the other Missouri officials who have faced criminal charges over the decades.
The first major criminal conviction of a state official that I covered involved House Speaker Dick Rabbit. In 1977, he was convicted on federal corruption charges for soliciting business for his law firm in return for favorable treatment of legislation.
Rabbitt would not be the last speaker to face criminal charges. Two decades later, the state’s longest serving House speaker, Bob Griffin, pled guilty to federal corruption charges and, like Rabbitt, went to prison.
Rod Jetton was the last Missouri House speaker to face criminal charges. His conviction, however, had nothing to do with his behavior in public office. Jetton did face a federal grand jury investigating, it was reported, campaign contributions from the porn industry and House actions derailing a bill to impose tougher regulations on porn shops. That federal investigation ended without charges.
But Jetton faced another issue — felony charges filed after a woman claimed assault during a sexual encounter. Jetton ultimately pled guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge.
The criminal conviction that had the greatest political impact in recent years involved Republican Attorney General Bill Webster. At the same time he was running as the GOP candidate for governor, reports emerged of a federal investigation into charges he awarded state contracts in return for campaign contributions.
No charges were filed during the 1996 campaign, but the continuing reports helped assure Democrat Mel Carnahan’s victory.
Webster eventually pled guilty to federal charges that had nothing to do with the influence-peddling stories. Instead, he was convicted of improper use of office resources for political and personal purposes.
An earlier criminal investigation with major statewide political impact involved Gov. Warren Hearnes. For months, there were front-page news stories about extensive federal investigations into corruption in Hearnes’ administration.
In the end, not a single charge was filed against Hearnes. But the man who had been known as a reformer had his reputation tarnished. Hearnes’ political future was finished.
Before Roger Wilson, the last statewide elected official to be convicted of criminal charges was Judy Moriarty, the first woman to serve as Missouri’s Secretary of State. She was convicted of back-dating her son’s candidacy form after he had missed the filing deadline for a legislative office. Her conviction led to subsequent impeachment and removal from office.
Ironically, the Cole County prosecutor in Moriarity’s case now is the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Missouri whose office handled the recent Wilson case. Beyond that, as county prosecutor, Richard Callahan also prosecuted state Sen. Jet Banks in 1999 on a felony charge of filing false income tax returns. Banks had been the Senate’s majority leader.
That’s just a sampling of the statehouse criminal gallery.
St. Louis Sen. Jeff Smith was convicted of obstruction of justice involving false campaign finance reports. St. Louis Representative T. D. El-Amin pled guilty to soliciting a bribe. St. Louis Rep. Bob Feigenbaum pled illegal drug possession and then worked with federal agents to go after a legislative colleague on drug charges, Dewey Crump.
It’s such a lineup that I’ve wondered if there’s something about this building or this process that tempts corruption. When I asked that of a legislator the other day, he looked in my face to express an earnest response that — yes, there are temptations here.
It’s the reason, I think, that shortly after his election as House Speaker, Steve Tilley brought convicted felon Jeff Smith back to the statehouse to talk with legislators.
“I encouraged them not to succumb to any of the temptations of Jefferson City that are provided here,” Smith said after a session with the House GOP Caucus in January of 2011. Smith said he also talked about how easy it is to cross over the line between legality and illegality and how easy it is to fail to see where that line lies.
As always, let me know (at email@example.com) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.
Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]