Friday, April 28, 2023

Joplin R-8 Board of Education unanimously approves MOSO CAPS program

During a special meeting today, the Joplin R-8 Board of Education unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Missouri Southern State University to participate in the MOSO CAPS program.

Under the agreement, the district will have 12 students enroll in the program, which has students taking classes at the university and participating in internships with area businesses and agencies. The cost will be $29,976.

If more students are able to participate, the cost will be pro-rated.

The board rejected MOSO CAPS on two prior occasions, but the makeup of the board changed with the election of three new members earlier this month.

City of Joplin receives $60,000 in grants for fire and police departments, EMS

(From the City of Joplin)

To assist public safety agencies throughout Missouri, Governor Mike Parson announced the Missouri Department of Public Safety has approved 428 grants totaling over $6.3 million to law enforcement, fire service, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers across the state to assist in equipment, supplies, and training needs. The maximum grant amount to recipients was $20,000.

The City of Joplin received $60,000, with $20,000 of funding going toward the Fire Department, Police Department, and EMS.


The Joplin Fire Department will utilize the $20,000 to begin the process of equipping firefighters with a second set of fire turnout gear. Turnout gear includes pants, helmets, coats, boots, and gloves manufactured with composite layers to withstand the heat of fires.

“We’ll be able to purchase 21 sets of turnout gear, which is the term for personal protective equipment each firefighter utilizes,” said Fire Chief Gerald Ezell. “Having a second set is an important safety measure for our crews.”

Joplin Police Department’s funding of $20,000 allows them to finish equipping all officers with body cameras, including 17 investigators, two sergeants, and one corporal. This equipment increases the transparency and accountability of officers on duty.

Police Chief Sloan Rowland said, “This grant will help supplement our audio and video capacity as we hire and train new officers.”


The $20,000 grant for emergency medical services is designated for EMS equipment to respond to emergencies, specifically to help resuscitate certain types of patients. Funds will also assist in purchasing additional EMS training equipment and supplies.

“This funding will allow the purchase of Advanced Life Support equipment and training devices that will allow our Paramedic personnel to quickly and efficiently provide life-saving treatments in the field,” said Fire Training Chief Dustin Lunow.

The funding for these public safety grants is made available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and was part of Governor Parson's Fiscal Year 2023 budget plan. The Missouri Department of Public Safety is the grant administrator.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Joplin R-8 Board expected to make final decision on MOSO CAPS agreement during special session

The Joplin R-8 Board of Education is expected to make a final decision on the MOSO CAPS program when it meets in special session 1 p.m. Friday at the Memorial Administration Building.

At issue is a three-year memorandum of understanding with Missouri Southern State University to have 12 students enroll in the program at a cost of $29,976.

The board rejected MOSO CAPS on two prior occasions, but the makeup of the board changed with the election of three new members earlier this month.

Under the memorandum, the district would have to do the following:

-Appoint a district liaison (preferably a high school administrator, counselor, or faculty member) to serve as the primary point of contact between MOSO CAPS and Missouri Southern State University; 

-Identify a qualified representative of the School District to serve on the MOSO CAPS Advisory Board; 

-Pay annual program tuition costs of $29,976 to the University on or before July 1 of each fiscal year based on the mutually agreed upon allocation of twelve (12) student seats ($2,498 per student); 

-Actively support MOSO CAPS by recruiting students and promoting the program to prospective students, their parents, faculty, and the business community; and 

-Award high school credit, as appropriate and allowed by the School District's academic policies, for work done by students in MOSO CAPS. 

The university would provide the following:

-Manage the day-to-day operations of the MOSO CAPS program, including working with industry partners, strand coordinators, and high school liaisons to create experiential learning opportunities for partner districts' students; 

-Serve as the primary point of contact for industry partners, collaborating on the development of high-quality experiential learning opportunities; 

-Employ a MOSO CAPS director using funds available from program tuition revenue; 

-Employ strand coordinators using funds available from program tuition revenue; 

-Receive program tuition fees from partner school districts, prepare an annual budget for the use of those funds, pay approved MOSO CAPS expenses with those funds, and provide a complete accounting of the use of funds to the partner school districts annually; and 

-Award college (dual enrollment) credit, as appropriate and allowed by the University's academic policies, for work done by students in MOSO CAPS.

During the special session the board will also decide on construction and installation of a 10x12 storage building for Dover Hill Elementary and an Athletic Training Program Clinical Affiliation Agreement with Missouri State University.

Carthage flags being flown at half-staff for former Mayor Mike Harris


All city flags in Carthage are being flown at half staff from sunset today to honor former Carthage Mayor Mike Harris, who died Sunday at age 77.

Mr. Harris served 19 years in Carthage city government, eight years as mayor and 11 years on the city council.

Services for Mr. Harris will be held 10:00 a.m. Friday, April 28, 2023, at First United Methodist Church in Carthage.

Mike Harris obituary

Former Joplin R-8 superintendent takes interim post in Arkansas district

Former Joplin R-8 Superintendent Melinda Moss has taken a position as interim superintendent for the Alpena School District.

The job will last through June 30.

Moss served as superintendent in Joplin from 2017 through 2022 before retiring. Prior to that, she was superintendent in the Harrison, Arkansas district.

Parson signs bill offering Missourians more direct access to physical therapy services

(From Gov. Mike Parson)

Today, Governor Mike Parson signed Senate Bill (SB) 51, which allows Missourians more direct access to physical therapy services, into law. A signing ceremony was held in Governor Parson's office at the State Capitol where he was joined by SB 51 sponsors, Senator Karla Eslinger and Representative Brenda Shields, and other stakeholders.

"We are all about streamlining processes and making it easier for Missourians to receive the services they need without unnecessary government burdens," Governor Parson said. "SB 51 will make access to physical therapy care easier for more Missourians, while reducing patient costs and protecting their quality of care. We are proud to sign this good piece of legislation into law and look forward to more being sent to my desk soon."

Provisions of SB 51 can be found below:Qualified physical therapists may treat patients without a prescription or referral from a physician;

Qualified physical therapists may provide certain educational information, fitness or wellness programs, screenings, and consultations without a prescription or referral from a physician; and

Physical therapists are required to consult with an approved health care provider after every 10 visits or 30 days, whichever occurs first, before continuing therapy.

For more information on SB 51, click here.

Speakers to address Joplin City Council on financial issues, proposed ban of small liquor bottles

MONDAY, MAY 1, 2023
6:00 P.M.


Call To Order

Pledge of Allegiance of the United States of America

Roll Call




Leadership Joplin Sound Garden Playground Addition


Finalization Of Consent Agenda


Reports And Communications


News From The Public Information Office


Citizen Requests And Petitions


Tom Robertson Requested To Speak On Public Safety Tax Revenue.


Mary Price Requested To Speak On Continued Financial Discrepancies, Lack Of Fiscal Responsibility.


Brian Evans Requested To Speak On Concerns And Former Meeting With Council About City Finance And Public Safety.


LaNetta Lewis Requested To Speak On A Rebuttal To Jon Buck On 50 Mil/Shooter Ban.


Ayush Patel Requested To Speak Against Banning 50ml Bottles In Joplin.


Bhupendra Patel Requested To Speak Against Banning 50ml Bottles In Joplin.


Vishal Gandhi Requested To Speak On Ban On 50mls Liquor Sales.


Public Hearings


Public Hearing Procedures



AN ORDINANCE amending Ordinance No. 2022-274, passed by the Council of the City of Joplin, Missouri, August 1, 2022, by removing from District R-1 (Single-Family Residential) to C-3 (Commercial) property as described below and located at 2927 E 9th St.



A RESOLUTION granting a Special Use Permit (1st Request) for the operation of a Dominos restaurant with a drive through, located at 2907 E 22nd St in the City of Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri.



A RESOLUTION granting a Special Use Permit (1st Request) for the operation of a Group Day Care Home, located at 4429 W 27th Pl in the City of Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri.



AN ORDINANCE amending Ordinance No. 2022-274, passed by the Council of the City of Joplin, Missouri, August 1, 2022, by removing from District R-3 (Apartment House) to R-3 HP (Apartment House, Historic Preservation) property as described below and located at 216 N Wall Ave.


Consent Agenda


Minutes Of The April 17, 2023, City Council Meeting




Ordinances - Emergency



AN ORDINANCE    authorizing the City of Joplin to enter into an agreement with Rosetta Construction, Inc., in the amount of Three Million Six Hundred Fifty‐Three Thousand Seven Hundred Twenty-Nine and 00/100 Dollars ($3,653,729.00) for the East Baker’s Branch Sewer Extension, Phases 1 and 2 project; authorizing the City Manager or his designee to execute the same by and on behalf of the City of Joplin; and containing an emergency clause.



AN ORDINANCE    authorizing the City of Joplin to enter into an agreement with Rosetta Construction, Inc., in the amount of Seven Hundred Ninety‐Four Thousand One Hundred Fifty-Five and 00/100 Dollars ($794,155.00) for the E. 7th Street Sewer Extension, Phase 2 project; authorizing the City Manager or his designee to execute the same by and on behalf of the City of Joplin; and containing an emergency clause.



AN ORDINANCE approving the contract by and between the City of Joplin and B & D Yardbuilders for the demolition of the structure(s) and clearing of a lot located at 2703 W D St. in the City of Joplin, Missouri, for Three Thousand Eight Hundred Ninety-Nine dollars & Ninety-Seven cents ($3,899.97); providing how the cost thereof shall be paid; how the assessment thereof shall be made; and containing an emergency clause.



AN ORDINANCE    adopting a new step pay plan by reference the City Salary Administration Plan; establishing the annual salary of certain Classified and Unclassified positions and Part-Time/Seasonal positions for Fiscal Year 2022-2023; amending the Annual Budget of the City of Joplin for the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 as adopted by Ordinance 2022-161 on October 17, 2022; and, containing an emergency clause. 


Ordinances - First Reading



AN ORDINANCE authorizing the City of Joplin to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with RestoreSpiva, LLC, and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for the purpose of  RestoreSpiva, LLC, conducting a capital campaign to restore Spiva Park in the City of Joplin; establishing responsibilities for RestoreSpiva, LLC, and the City in maintaining and operating Spiva Park; and authorizing the City Manager to execute said Memorandum of Understanding by and on behalf of the City of Joplin.  


Ordinances - Second Reading And Third Reading


Unfinished Business


New Business



Case 020-23: 2907 E 22nd St - Site Plan Review – A Request to review a Site Plan for a drive through Dominos restaurant – Bates Building


Declare Excess Surplus Property For The City Of Joplin Fire Department


Confirm Boards And Commissions Appointments


Vote To Go Into Closed Session, Which Shall Pertain To Leasing, Purchasing Or Sale Of Real Estate By A Public Governmental Body Where Public Knowledge Of The Transaction Might Adversely Affect The Legal Consideration Therefore As Set Forth In Section 610.021 (2) RSMo, As Amended, 2020. This Meeting, Record, And Vote To Be Closed To The Extent Provided By Law. The City Council Shall Adjourn At The End Of The Session

Appeals court rejects Diamond man's appeal of life sentence for sexual coercion of underage girl

In an opinion handed down today, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Diamond man's contention that his life sentence for the sexual coercion and enticement of an underage girl was due to "selective prosecution."

That claim by Terry Lee Miksell, 66, was rejected outright by the appellate panel.

We conclude that there was no error: Miksell did not allege any facts indicating that his prosecution was based on an impermissible motive.

The panel also noted that the evidence presented at Miksell's trial was sufficient enough to convict him.

A jury found Miksell guilty March 29, 2022, following a two-day trial.

The case against Miksell was spelled out in the probable cause statement:

On September 17, 2019, Facebook initiated CyberTip 55638136 and on September 19, 2019 Facebook initiated CyberTip 55765307 with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Facebook initiated the CyberTips after locating sexually explicit messages and images between a user they believed to be a minor and another user believed to be a 63-year-old male. The messages and images were sent between August 13, 2019 and September 6, 2019.
In CyberTips 5638136 and 55765307 Facebook identified two user profiles. The first profile identified the user's screen name as "Terry Miksell". Miksell identified himself as a 63-year-old male in his profile. The second profile identified by Facebook was for a 16-year-old minor female.

This affiant reviewed the image he submitted and confirmed it depicted child pornography, that is Jane Doe, a minor less than 18 years of age, engaged in sexually explicit activity. The image had been sent from the minor's account to Miksell's accont during a Facebook Messenger chat.Facebook provided an except of Facebook Messenger chats between Miksell and Jane Doe. This affiant reviewed the messages and confirmed that they are sexually explicit in nature. During the chats, Miksell asked Jane Doe to send him sexually explicit images.

Through the course of the investigation, this affiant located a 63-year-old individual named Terry Lee Miksell residing in Diamond, Missouri.

On January 3, 2020, this affiant applied for and received a search warrant for Miksell's residence located in Diamond, Newton County, Missouri.

On January 16, 2020, this affiant and other members of Homeland Security and Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force executed the search warrant for Miksell's residence.

During a post-Miranda interview with TFO Martin and TFO Charles Root, Miksell admitted to communicating with Jane Doe through Facebook and further stated he got carried away during some of his messages with Jane Doe. Miksell reported that Facebook had closed both of his accounts for violation of community standards.

Law enforcement seized numerous devices from Miksell's residence, including Miksell's Alcatel 5041C cell phone.

During law enforcement's preview of the cell phone, several pictures of Jane Doe were located in Miksell's Facebook Messenger chats. A short video depicting Jane Doe engaged in sexually explicit activity was also located.

Following the execution of the search warrant, this affiant located 16-year-old Jane Doe.

Jane Doe was interviewed by child forensic interview Kim Stewart. Jane Doe confirmed that Miksell had requested sexually explicit images and videos of her and Jane Doe stated she had sent those images and videos at his request.

Webb City woman, Neosho man plead guilty to roles in kidnapping that led to murder

With two more guilty pleas entered this morning in U. S. District Court in Springfield this morning, only one of the six people charged in connection with the kidnapping conspiracy that led to the death of Michael James Hall, Joplin, in 2020, remains.

The only one left standing is the man who allegedly fired the shot to the head that killed Hall following hours of torture.

A change of plea hearing had been scheduled for May 1 for Freddie Tilton, 50, Joplin, but that hearing was canceled and court files indicate Tilton's trial is scheduled for September 25 in Springfield.

Those entering guilty pleas today were Amy Kay Thomas, 40, Webb City, and Lawrence William "Scary Larry" Vaughan, 51, Neosho.

Thomas pleaded guilty to kidnapping and a weapons charge, while Vaughan pleaded guilty to kidnapping.

Judge Douglas Harpool ordered pre-sentence investigations for both. No date is scheduled for sentencing.

Those who pleaded guilty earlier were Russell Eugene Hurtt, 51, Joplin, James B. Gibson, 41, Webb City, and Carla Jo Ward, 47, Joplin.

Hall's decomposing body was discovered by Joplin Police Department officers and Newton County Sheriff's Office deputies as they were executing a search warrant at 3517 Cherry Road in Joplin July 28, 2020.

Details of the kidnapping and murder can be found at this link.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

U. S. Attorney notes nature of child porn accusations against Carthage man, asks for no bond

A Carthage man will remain in the Greene County Jail while a federal judge decides whether he should be granted bond in a child pornography case.

During a preliminary hearing and detention hearing this morning in U. S. District Court in Springfield, an assistant U. S. attorney said James Allen Beam, 35, should be held without bond because of the nature of the allegations against him.

The defendant's illegal activities came to light after he transmitted a video file depicting a child being sodomized by an adult male to an undercover law enforcement officer. The defendant was positively identified after he transmitted a video of himself engaged in masturbation. 

The defendant was later arrested and confessed to receiving and distributing child pornography via the Internet. The defendant also indicated that he was actively exchanging communications with children. 

This Court is obligated to consider “the nature and circumstances of the offense charged, including whether the offense… involves a minor victim.

Beam's attorney, Brian Risley, argued that his client has no criminal history, except for one Carthage Police Department warrant for failure to appear for not wearing a seat belt. He noted Beam has no history of drug or alcohol abuse and no "mental health issues."

Mr. Beam has a proposed home plan that was verified by the Probation Office. It would have Mr. Beam reside with his parents so that he can make all court appearances and be more available to assist his counsel in the defense of his case. Mr. Beam would also be able to work and help to financially support his wife and children, as he was the primary wage earner for the family prior to his arrest. 

Mr. Beam will abide by all conditions of release set by the Court, including, but not limited to electronic monitoring, limitations on electronics and internet, contact with minors, travel restrictions, and any treatment the pretrial services office deems necessary. These conditions and restrictions and can assure of the safety of the community.

Judge David P. Rush took the matter under advisement.

New charge filed against Golden City teacher accused of having sex with 15-year-old boy

A former Golden City full-time substitute teacher whose trial for allegedly having sex with a student is scheduled for September 5 in Jasper County Circuit Court, faces a new related charge.

The Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney's office charged Jacey Stahl Collins, 23, a former Lamar resident who now lives in Aldrich, with endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree, a misdemeanor.

The probable cause statement for the new case is the probable cause statement for the original case down to the Jasper County Sheriff's Office's recommendation of charging Collins with sex with a student. 

The Jasper and Barton County Sheriff's Office conducted an investigation into an inappropriate relationship between a 15-year-old male student and a female teacher at the Golden City School District.

The teacher was identified as Jacey Bayne (Stahl) Collins and was employed by the Golden City School District as a full time substitute teacher at the time of the inappropriate relationship.

The victim was identified as P.J., age 15, and was a student who attended classes with Collins as his teacher. A forensic interview was conducted at the Children's Division where P.J. (He) disclosed he had a sexual relationship with Collins.

P.J. stated Collins came to his home located (in rural Golden City in Jasper County) Missouri in February 2021. His parents were not home. They had intercourse in his bedroom.

P.J. stated after they had sex, Collins would continue to communicate with him through text communications. Through a third party (another student), Collins later asked P.J. to destroy his cellular device and offered to buy him a new one.

A forensics examination was conducted on P.J.'s cellular telephone. The examination revealed that P.J.'s phone contained his teacher's (Collins) contact information and that the device was used multiple times to contact Collins via social media and direct text communication between the devices. 

Jasper County Circuit Court online records indicate Collins will be arraigned 8:30 a.m. May 1 before Judge Joseph Hensley and that a plea hearing will be held at the same time at the request of Collins' attorney Erica Mynarich.

The file for the felony sex with a student charge against Collins shows no changes that would indicate the new charge, a misdemeanor, is part of a plea agreement.

Joplin Globe editorial: Joplin Schools should join MOSO CAPS

No surprise here.

The Joplin Globe Editorial Board came out in favor of the R-8 School District joining Missouri Southern State University's MOSO CAPS program in an editorial today.

The board has voted twice against joining the program following heated discussions, but as the editorial points out, the district has a new superintendent and five new board members now.

The program, which already includes students from the Webb City and Carl Junction districts, has the students attending work-related classes on the university campus part of the time and participating in internships with participating agencies and businesses.

From the Globe editorial:

Spending taxpayer money on things that serve students and prepare them for life after high school isn’t a dereliction of fiscal responsibility — it’s what the school board is supposed to do.

The current school board has been given another chance to sign the Joplin School District up for MOSO CAPS. Maybe third time’s the charm?

Board members should seize this opportunity and do what they can to secure seats for Joplin students going forward.

Former Arkansas state senator sentenced for bribery

(From the Department of Justice)

A former Arkansas state senator was sentenced yesterday to four years and two months in prison in the Western District of Missouri for accepting multiple bribes in connection with a multi-district investigation spanning the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas and the Western District of Missouri.

Pursuant to his global plea agreement, Jeremy Hutchinson, 48, of Little Rock, pleaded guilty on June 25, 2019, in the Eastern District of Arkansas to filing a false tax return; pleaded guilty on June 25, 2019, to an information filed in the Western District of Arkansas to conspiracy to commit federal program bribery; and pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri on July 8, 2019, to conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. 

On Feb. 3, Hutchison was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison for his convictions in the Eastern District of Arkansas and Western District of Arkansas. His sentence in the Western District of Missouri will run consecutive to the previous sentence for a total of eight years in prison.

According to court documents in connection with his plea in the Western District of Missouri, Hutchinson was hired by then-chief operating officer Bontiea Goss as outside counsel for Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities Inc.), a Springfield, Missouri-based healthcare charity. In exchange for payments and legal work, Hutchinson performed official acts on behalf of Preferred Family Healthcare, including holding up agency budgets and drafting and voting on legislation. Preferred Family Healthcare paid Hutchinson more than $350,000 in monthly retainer payments from May 2014 until 2017.

In 2022, Preferred Family Healthcare agreed to pay more than $8 million in forfeiture and restitution to the federal government and the state of Arkansas under the terms of a non-prosecution agreement, in which the company admitted to the criminal conduct of its former officers and employees.

Several former executives from the charity, former members of the Arkansas state legislature, and others have pleaded guilty in federal court as part of the long-running, multi-jurisdiction investigation, including the following:Former Chief Operating Officer Bontiea Goss, previously of Springfield, Missouri, pleaded guilty in September 2022 to her role in a conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Former Chief Financial Officer Tommy “Tom” Ray Goss, husband of Bontiea Goss, and also previously of Springfield, Missouri, pleaded guilty in September 2022 to participating in the conspiracy by embezzling funds from the charity, as well as by paying bribes and kickbacks to elected public officials in Arkansas. Tom Goss also pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and assisting in the preparation and presentation of a false tax return.

Former Chief Executive Officer Marilyn Luann Nolan of Springfield, Missouri, pleaded guilty in November 2018 to her role in a conspiracy to embezzle and misapply the funds of a charitable organization that received federal funds.

Former Director of Operations and Executive Vice President Robin Raveendran of Little Rock, Arkansas, pleaded guilty in June 2019 to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Former executive and head of clinical operations Keith Fraser Noble of Rogersville, Missouri, pleaded guilty in September 2019 to concealment of a known felony.

Former employee and head of operations and lobbying in Arkansas Milton Russell Cranford, aka Rusty, of Rogers, Arkansas, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of federal program bribery.

Political consultant Donald Andrew Jones, aka D.A. Jones, of Willingboro, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to his role in a conspiracy to steal from an organization that receives federal funds.

Former Arkansas State Representative Eddie Wayne Cooper of Melbourne, Arkansas, pleaded guilty in February 2018 to conspiracy to embezzle more than $4 million from Preferred Family Healthcare.

Former Arkansas State Senator and State Representative Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV was sentenced in January 2023 for his role in a conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and devising a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the citizens of the state of Arkansas of their right to honest services.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Jonathan D. Ross for the Eastern District of Arkansas, U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes for the Western District of Arkansas, U.S. Attorney Teresa A. Moore for the Western District of Missouri, Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, Special Agent in Charge Charles Dayoub of the FBI Kansas City Field Office, Special Agent in Charge James A. Dawson of the FBI Little Rock Field Office, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas F. Murdock of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) St. Louis Field Office made the announcement.

The FBI, IRS-CI, the Offices of the Inspectors General from the Departments of Justice, Labor, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation investigated the cases.

Senior Litigation Counsel Marco A. Palmieri, Director of Enforcement & Litigation for the Election Crimes Branch Sean F. Mulryne, and Trial Attorney Jacob Steiner of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section; Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti for the Eastern District of Arkansas; Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Eggert and Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon T. Kempf for the Western District of Missouri; and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aaron L. Jennen and Steven M. Mohlhenrich for the Western District of Arkansas are prosecuting the separate criminal cases. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Harris for the Eastern District of Arkansas and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Wulff for the Western District of Arkansas provided significant assistance.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Missouri AG drops out of gambling case after taking donations from companies suing state

By Rudi Keller

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office withdrew last week from a Cole County lawsuit accusing the Missouri State Highway Patrol of harassment and a “concerted campaign of threats” against companies that profit from video games offering cash prizes.

Bailey, who is seeking a full term in office in 2024, has in recent months accepted large campaign contributions from political action committees linked to Steve Tilley, lobbyist for the two companies that brought the lawsuit against the state — Torch Electronics and Warrenton Oil.

(Photo- Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey addresses a crowd at the state Supreme Court Building after being sworn into office on Jan. 3, 2023- photo courtesy of Missouri Governor’s Office).

The highway patrol and the Department of Public Safety will now be represented by Scott Pool, a Jefferson City lawyer hired regularly when the attorney general’s office has a conflict of interest and cannot represent a state agency. Reached by telephone Monday, Pool confirmed he was hired because of a conflict but said he was not told the nature of the issue.

Pool is a former assistant attorney general. He will be paid the standard rate for outside counsel, but Bailey’s spokeswoman, Madeline Sieren, would not give an exact amount.

Pool was hired in 2021 to represent Gov. Mike Parson’s office and was paid $140 an hour.

Sieren would not address the nature of the conflict that inspired the attorney general to withdraw from the case.

“Our office followed our longstanding practice of retaining conflict counsel to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Sieren said.

The only thing that has changed in the case since the lawsuit was filed in February 2021 is the occupant of the attorney general’s office. Bailey was inaugurated in early January, taking over from Eric Schmitt, who won election last year to the U.S. Senate.

Since 2014, the attorney general’s office has had a policy that it will not accept contributions from any company targeted for investigation. Schmitt returned contributions received in June 2021 from Torch owner Steven Miltenberger and his wife, Sondra Miltenberger, after criticism that, because of the ongoing litigation, they could be a conflict of interest.

In mid-April, Bailey reported raising $305,000 so far for his campaign committee, including $14,125 in contributions from five political action committees linked to Tilley.

Liberty and Justice PAC, which is supporting Bailey’s bid for a full term through independent spending, has raised $644,000, including $25,000 from those same Tilley-linked PACs and $1,000 directly from Warrenton Oil.

The five PACs – Mo Majority, Missouri Senior, Missouri AG, Missouri C and Missouri Growth – accepted $961,665 during the 2021-22 election cycle, with Torch providing $361,665 and Warrenton Oil pitching in $140,000, or a combined 56% of the total.

Torch Electronics, founded in 2015, has placed thousands of its video games in convenience stores, truck stops and other locations across the state. Warrenton Oil, which operates more than 50 convenience stores, has Torch machines in many of its locations.

Starting in 2019, the patrol began a focused enforcement effort on the belief that the machines violate state gambling laws. In 2019 and 2020, the patrol sent more than 200 cases to local prosecutors alleging violations of state gambling laws.

Few criminal cases have been filed, however, and the Cole County lawsuit seeks to quash any future investigations. Torch argues through attorney Chuck Hatfield that its machines are legal.

Under current state law, a game is considered to be gambling if the player risks something of value on a contest of chance or event outside of their control with the expectation of receiving something of value “in the event of a certain outcome.”

Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully for several years to revise the statute so there is no doubt the games are illegal. The change has been blocked as the legislature has been unable to reach agreement on other gambling issues, including sports betting and authorizing video lottery terminals.

That is a strong argument in Torch’s favor, Hatfield said in an interview with The Independent.

“The fact that the legislature has considered bills to clarify the law tells you that the law does not clearly define what is and is not gambling,” Hatfield said. “If the legislature wants to outlaw these machines, they have the right to do that.”

Torch contends its machines are legal because a player can learn the outcome of any particular game, with any particular wage amount, before risking their money. There is also no chance in any particular outcome, Hatfield wrote in a 2021 court filing.

“Torch amusement devices do not have a metered randomizer or any other random number generator,” Hatfield wrote. “All outcomes on Torch’s amusement devices are pre-determined, finite, and in sequential order. These pre-determined outcomes cannot be altered.”

While Schmitt was in office, the attorney general accused Torch of improperly seeking to delay criminal investigations through the lawsuit.

The only way to truly determine if the games are illegal is through a criminal prosecution, not a lawsuit to block prosecution, Schmitt’s office wrote.

“Plaintiffs cannot seek equitable relief because they have unclean hands,” assistant attorney general Ross Kaplan wrote in a 2021 filing. “In choosing to conduct a criminal enterprise, despite knowledge of the criminal laws of the state, plaintiffs have subjected themselves to the criminal justice system of the state.”

The lawsuit in Cole County is not the only venue where Torch has gone to court to block prosecutions. In Linn County, Torch sued the local prosecutor after being charged with a felony; both cases were dropped earlier this year after a new prosecutor was elected.

In Greene County, a lawsuit to prevent prosecution was filed after a raid where Torch machines were seized. That case has been dismissed.

Torch itself is being sued in federal court in a case that accuses the company of federal racketeering and state consumer protection law violations. The federal case also names two convenience store companies – Mally Inc. and Warrenton Oil Company – and three individuals as defendants.

The Cole County case is scheduled for a trial beginning July 31. Both Pool and Hatfield said the change of attorneys should not delay the case.