Cooper County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Abele did not do himself any favors when he answered questions from St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman concerning possible criminal charges against Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, and Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall, for Smith's illegal use of Aull's identification at the Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville July 31. The article concerned possible charges against the legislators, which may be filed later this week.
In the first place, six weeks have passed since the crime allegedly took place and no charges have been filed. While the case is only a misdemeanor the fact that it involves two state legislators would seem to put it on a bit higher level:
Abele said that the delay in the case comes because he had trouble reaching legislators, who were busy with the recent special session.
Were those legislators witnesses? Or are other lawmakers with Smith that night, all Democrats, also facing possible charges?
Abele, a Republican who took office in 1983, wouldn't say.
“What I'm saying is, during special session, legislators are pretty well focused on what they are doing,” Abele said. “They don't want to, nor do they have to, respond to things that aren't part of the session."
If memory serves correctly, out of that six weeks, the legislature was only in session for a brief time, so that excuse appears to be a bit of a stretch. And so what if their minds were on the session. The same sort of deference would not be shown to a doctor, a plumber, a teacher, or a minister who was charged with the same kind of crime, nor to any of them who happened to be witnesses to the crime. Why couldn't they take a few minutes out of their busy schedules to answer Abele's questions.
While the law that was broken may not be a major one, it is still a law, and the worst thing law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys can do is to give the impression that legislators are special individuals who are somehow above the law, or who need to receive special concessions that would not be provided to the rest of us.
Abele does not seem to understand that distinction, judging from the final comment in Wagman's article:
“It's not that I view this case any more special than any other case – we have processed a number of cases under this statute,”Abele said. “I will say that when every media outlet in the state is calling and is interested in the case, it does put a different perspective on it than what we usually have in Cooper County.”
The case is special because we have people who have been elected to make the laws accused of breaking them.
For some reason, media outlets have been slow in naming the people who were at that lobbyist-financed excursion to the Isle of Capri that night. Missouri Ethics Commission documents, first noted in the Sept. 1 Turner Report, indicate Chris Liese, lobbyist for Isle of Capri, paid the freight for six Democratic legislators and one spouse:
Smith, Aull, Aull's wife Candee, and four other Democratic legislators, Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, had their meals and drinks paid for by an Isle of Capri lobbyist, according to the documents, but that lobbyist was not Lynne Schlosser, who allegedly suggested that Smith use Aull's identification. Ms. Schlosser no longer works for Isle of Capri, and does not list any gifts for the month of July.
A total of $910 for "meals, food, and beverage" is listed on the disclosure form filed by Chris Liese, $130 each for the six legislators and Mrs. Aull.
The July junket is far from the only effort Isle of Capri has made to woo Democratic legislators.
Liese's disclosure report for March indicates Isle of Capri spent $1,602.85 for meals, food, and beverage, and $225 for gifts for the House Minority Caucus and like amounts for the Senate Minority Caucus on March 12.
Smith, Graham, and Shoemyer, were all named to the latest Turner Report Hall of Shame for being in the top 10 among Missouri senators in taking gifts from lobbyists. The entire list can be found in the Sept. 15 Turner Report.
Find out more about the newly published Turner Report book at this link or order it through Amazon.com.