Tag Archives: Laura Nauser

Asset Forfeiture and the Columbia City Council

At its April 1st meeting, the Columbia City Council approved the purchase of a Lenco Bearcat armored personnel carrier with a price tag well over $200k. $36,505 of the cost was to be covered by asset forfeiture funds.

For those who are unfamiliar with asset forfeiture, I’ll try and explain it in a proverbial nutshell. Before I do that, it is important to thank the policy analysts at Americans for Forfeiture Reform for their work on this subject. Without them, I doubt many people would be talking about the evils of asset forfeiture. For those who would like to learn more, AFR has a very informative website.

In a nutshell, as promised, asset forfeiture is the means by which the government circumvents the 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendments to the United States Constitution to steal property from its citizens as it makes unreasonable seizures without due process and overrides the Missouri Constitution. If property is suspected to have been used in the commission of a crime or gained as the proceeds of illegal activity, that property can be seized by the government. More on that later.

There are two problems with asset forfeiture. First is the problem of where the money goes. Second is the problem of how the money is taken.

Article IX, section 7 of the Missouri State Constitution states:

All interest accruing from investment of the county school fund, the clear proceeds of all penalties, forfeitures and fines collected hereafter for any breach of the penal laws of the state, the net proceeds from the sale of estrays, and all other moneys coming into said funds shall be distributed annually to the schools of the several counties according to law.

So, according to the Missouri Constitution, moneys confiscated via asset forfeiture is to be sent to the schools. With this being the case, how are law enforcement agencies in Missouri able to pay themselves from these funds?

The answer is a federal loophole known as equitable sharing. Equitable sharing basically works like this. When local law enforcement finds some good stuff while investigating a crime, they take it and process the forfeiture through the federal government. Most law enforcement agencies have federally deputized officers who can process the forfeiture. Sometimes it’s merely a matter of paperwork. When this happens, the feds take a small cut of the proceeds and give the rest back to the participating law enforcement agencies. This allows for an end-run around the Missouri State Constitution. The money is effectively laundered through the Department of Justice.

Here is what Americans for Forfeiture Reform has to say about equitable sharing:

Initiated in 1986, the Equitable Sharing Program was designed to foster cooperation between state and federal law enforcement agencies in the war on drugs. Few states had forfeiture laws at the time and state and local agencies that participated could receive a portion of the income generated from federal forfeitures. Since then all 50 states have passed either civil or criminal forfeiture laws and now the equitable sharing program serves not only to foster cooperation, but as a way for state and local law enforcement agencies to circumvent their own state forfeiture statutes.

Once local law enforcement hands a case over to the feds, state law ceases to apply. This means that police departments in California, North Carolina, and Nebraska do not have to convict a person before taking their property. Agencies in Hawaii stand to receive as much as three times the amount of money from a forfeiture processed in federal court than they would if done through their own court system. State mandates to avoid policing for profit, such as in Missouri where forfeiture proceeds are supposed to be deposited in a fund for education, are bypassed as well.

Instead of going to schools, the money is funneled back to local police, either as grants or as cold, hard cash. As Columbia’s Police Chief Ken Burton described it, it’s like “pennies from heaven.”

I’d argue that these funds are really pennies from hell, usually stolen from citizens, but we’ll get to that later.

Not only are the forfeiture funds not going to our school children, the equitable sharing process sets up a system of policing for profit which further degrades our local political system that should be answerable to the people. Funding is one way the people of a community possess to maintain local sovereignty and control or support of local law enforcement. When law enforcement uses equitable sharing of forfeiture dollars to self-fund, the community loses one check and balance and the police have a perverse incentive to prosecute profitable crimes or wait to act until certain crimes become profitable.

Case in point: Columbia’s infamous Kinloch Ct. S.W.A.T. raid. One of the main problems with this raid was that the police supposedly had reliable intelligence from a confidential informant who stated that there was a large amount of cannabis at a residence. The police waited 8 days after the warrant was issued to kick in the door with guns-a-blazin’, shooting two dogs in front of a small child only to find a small amount of cannabis and no cash.

So why the delay? While it was explained away as a staffing problem, the real reason was likely the hope of finding piles of cash. If the police know there is a big pile of drugs at a dealer’s house and they send S.W.A.T. in immediately, all they find is the drugs. If they wait a week, hopefully the drug dealer has sold enough of his product to amass a big pile of cash — cash that can be used to buy cool new Department of Homeland Security toys and tools like the Lenco Bearcat.

There’s just no money in rape and murder these days.

We’ve established that there is a problem with where the money goes. It’s not going to our school children as directed by our state constitution and it establishes a means of self-funding for law enforcement, circumventing local control and creating perverse enforcement incentives. Now let’s tale a look at how the money is taken in the first place.

To keep things simple, let’s divide asset forfeiture into two categories — criminal asset forfeiture and  civil asset forfeiture.

Criminal asset forfeiture is when property is seized by and forfeited to the government when the owner of such property is convicted of a crime. There are some reasonable arguments that can be made in support of this system. When a person is convicted of a crime, forfeiting property can be part of the punishment. Of course we’ve discussed the problem with self-funding above, but when we look at it as punishment, regardless of where the money goes, it seems to make sense. When a profitable criminal gets out of jail, they should not be able to go home to a mansion purchased with the proceeds of his/her criminal activity.

Civil asset forfeiture is the real problem. In a civil asset forfeiture proceeding, a citizen does not need to be convicted of a crime to have their property taken by the government. In fact, the accused doesn’t even need to be tried and acquitted. All that really needs to happen is an arrest, justified or not, and the government seizes property.

Since the forfeiture is made in civil court, the old “innocent until proven guilty” protection that we all learned in 6th grade does not apply. Cases are literally made against the property and read like, “United States of America v. United States currency in the amount of $638,202.00 et al.” To get their property back, property owners must hire a lawyer to argue for the innocence of their property, which is assumed in civil court to be guilty. Sound absurd? Well, it is absurd.

The case listed in the preceding paragraph as to do with property taken from a local Columbia business owner during a raid executed by the Boone County Sheriffs Department. Kevin Bay, co-owner of a local business, BoCoMo Bay, was suspected of a crime. Once arrested, the charges against Mr. Bay were quickly dropped, but not before several million dollars worth of cash, precious metals, collectible coins, and collectible firearms were seized and made subject to civil asset forfeiture.

Read about Kevin Bay’s ordeal HERE.

That’s right. Mr. Bay was arrested, never officially charged with a crime, yet faces a lengthy federal court battle to have his rightful and legal property returned to him. This is theft, plain and simple.

While it might be worth it, although a hard stone to chew, for Mr. Bay to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get his millions returned, if he is successful, imagine a case where only $10,000 worth of property is seized. Why would a victim if civil asset forfeiture spend $20,000 in legal fees fighting for the return of $10,000. In these cases, the only choice is to forfeit the money.

This happens all the time. Click here to see a raid where a grandmother’s $5000 dollars was seized because someone in her house had a crack rock and pipe in his pocket. That money is gone, no matter what.

At last week’s Columbia City Council meeting, the council approved the use of $36,505 of asset forfeiture funds to purchase an APC for the CPD. Here is the council discussion regarding the purchase during which Michael Trapp leads the charge for accountability in the use of the vehicle. Asset forfeiture gets a mention during the discussion, but comes up later, in a meaningful way.

During the public comment portion before the vote, Keep Columbia Free’s Treasurer Elect addresses the council.

Keep Columbia Free President Mark Flakne also addressed the council.

And it looks like someone on the council heard us. At the end of the meeting, Councilperson Laura Nauser asked for a staff report on the use of asset forfeiture dollars in the City of Columbia. She expressed an interest in starting a public discussion centered around asset forfeiture to see if it is something that our community wants to use as a source for funding police.


We have also heard from another councilperson, who shall remain nameless for the time being, who said that he is open to the idea of championing asset forfeiture reform in Columbia, especially with the passage of the 911 tax which will allow for the return of funds to the city that can be used to replace forfeiture funds.

Please help educate your friends and family about civil asset forfeiture. Sadly, the majority of folks in Columbia and across the country simply have no idea what asset forfeiture is. Thanks to Americans for Forfeiture Reform and other groups like the Institute for Justice, people are waking up to this practice and overwhelmingly finding themselves to be repulsed by it.

Read about some of the forfeiture cases being handled by the Institute of Justice HERE

Now is the time to call your councilperson and let him/her know in no uncertain terms that it is time to end the use of asset forfeiture to fund our local police. We should fully fund our police department through traditional means. Using asset forfeiture as a funding mechanism, while technically legal, is a morally abhorrent practice. We should all be demanding local sovereignty, government accountability, and local control of our law enforcement.

 

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What Was Schaefer Thinking?

jones schaefer

 

When I saw that Senator Kurt Schaefer and Representative Caleb Jones, both darlings of the Republican Party, had endorsed Mark Jones for Columbia City Council, I couldn’t believe it. After all, Jones is a longtime Democrat political operative and a union boss and lobbyist for the NEA teachers union. While there are some liberals with whom I share some ideology, Jones is not one of them.

Of course, I don’t agree with Kurt Schaefer or Caleb Jones all of the time either, but, for some reason, I still expect lawmakers to act on principle, at least some of the time. All this move did is cement the fact that all of the big-money, establishment politicians are playing for the same team regardless of whether they have a D or an R next to their name.

What sort of backroom deal was hatched to get a state senator to wade into the murky waters of local Columbia politics? What sort of strings has Jones pulled to help these two Republicans? Is it because Jones delivered the NEA for Kurt during the last election? Did Kurt sell Columbia down the river for Union support? I guess it says something that even with big name endorsements, big money from both sides of the imaginary aisle, and a flawless campaign, Mark Jones only garnered 16% of the votes cast.

So why are Columbia’s liberals whining that Jones was a spoiler?

With mailers like the one pictured above and the backing of much of Columbia’s powerful development lobby, Mark Jones undoubtedly pulled more votes from Nauser than from Burns. Heck, Burns even had the backing of the local leftist political cabal and money machine, Progressive Political Partners, the group headed by Jeff Chinn that helped make Chris Kelly seemingly unstoppable and won the last 5th Ward contest for Helen Anthony, and still couldn’t edge out Laura Nauser’s grassroots support.

There is no doubt that Jones really thought he was going to pull enough from both sides to win the race. He took the left for granted and went hard after Nauser’s base by riding the Schaefer endorsement like a stolen pony. People who met him at their doors often commented that they knew he was a Democrat but he talked like a Republican. A Tootie spoiler Jones was not.

Hoppy is hoppin’ mad.

But the local Columbia leftists won’t stop spitting sour grapes all over social media. Even liberal icon Barb Hoppe, who – by the way – voted to expand Downtown government surveilance and voted for the EEZ every time until REDI told her not to, got in on the action, chiming in on a post on her hubby Mike Sleadd’s Facebook wall amidst a throng of “Jones was a spoiler” rants.

Councilperson Hoppe writes:

“Sad day for Columbia. Tootie Burns would have won hands down in the 5th Ward election if Mark Jones hadn’t been a spoiler. The weight of future bad city council decisions will be on his egotistical and delusional shoulders- and those who encouraged him -shame on them.”

Here is the complete thread from Sleadd’s Facebook page.

sleadd hoppe b

 

All I can say is “WOW!”

The April elections for the mayor and two ward seats are just around the corner and it looks like they might be fun to watch. Can underdog, populist gentleman Sid Sullivan edge out the smug, favorite incumbent Bob McDavid? Will the pedal powered Brit Ian Thomas serve as the spoiler ruining things for watchdog Weitkemper and usher in a second term for Dudley and his pickup truck? Will the third epic battle between the long-winded internet troll Skala and his arch nemesis Kespohl leave anyone unscathed? Stay tuned!

–Mark Flakne

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Integrity in the Fifth Ward

After viewing Tootie Burns’s new television commercial (above) I was struck by her comments regarding “integrity,” specifically, her own. I contacted, or attempted to contact, the 5th Ward candidates for a comment on the subject of integrity in relation to the City Council Race in the 5th Ward.

I received a written response from Tootie, Laura Nauser gave me a call, and I’ve heard nothing from Mark Jones.

The silence from the Jones camp comes as no surprise since Keep Columbia Free broke a story questioning his integrity – a story that was subsequently picked up by local media outlets. Not only is Jones an NEA union boss and Jefferson City lobbyist, he was fined thousands of dollars and his Democrat campaign committee was fined tens of thousands of dollars for filing false MEC reports and commingling funds. It’s no wonder he doesn’t want to talk about integrity.

Tootie Burns was the first to respond. In her timely, email response, Tootie said…

“Honesty and integrity should be the first qualification for public office.  Anyone who knows me knows that I value my integrity more than any association with a party or organization. As the ad said, that really is who I am.  To my knowledge, no one has ever questioned my integrity.
I have run a positive campaign focusing on my role as the voice of Fifth Ward neighborhoods.  Despite repeated requests for comment about my opponents’ records, I have intentionally chosen instead to talk positively about what I will bring to the Council.”

Since “no one has ever questioned” Tootie’s integrity, I guess I’ll be the first.

Let’s face the facts. Watch her video again. It’s obvious that this video is a veiled attack on Mark Jones. He’s a Jeff City lobbyist who is beholden to special interests and is using this race as a stepping stone to higher office. Not exactly the “positive” message she claims in her email, right?. But that’s only the tip of the integrity iceberg.

In the video, when she gets to the bit about her integrity, I couldn’t help but think that she is responding to an attack on her own integrity. She almost seems defensive. Maybe this was just a “not-so-positive” attack on Mark Jones — or maybe not.

Let’s take a look at the proposed Providence improvements that will affect the Grasslands neighborhood. Mark Jones and Laura Nauser have this one right.

Jones’s mantra regarding Grasslands has been, “We’re looking for a $7 million solution to a $1 million problem.”  A polished soundbite from a professional politician who probably has no business delving into local council politics, but true nonetheless. There are plenty of cheaper solution to this problem, solutions that were passed over at the urging of some of the influential residents of the Grasslands neighborhood, including Tootie Burns. More on that later.

Jones

Mark Jones

Nauser agrees with Jones on this subject, although her experience on the council dealing with road improvements leads her to take a more conservative approach to the actual cost of making the changes to Providence. She concedes that the improvements would at least cost “a couple million dollars,” but should be no where near the current $7,000,000 price tag. That doesn’t make as memorable a soundbite as Jones’s 1 to 7 comparison, but God bless her for keeping it real.

Nauser asks “where is the money?”

“The council has rushed this Grasslands project like they are handing out ice cream cones. This is seven million dollars of tax money being spent on road improvements for the Grasslands. There are several other 5th Ward road projects that could use some of that money. I’m not suggesting that the Stadium improvements are not important, but if the council is handing out ice cream cones, they shouldn’t all go to the Grasslands neighborhood.”

Nauser

Laura Nauser

Nauser went on, impressing me with her knowledge of 5th Ward road infrastructure concerns, talking about the problems on Forum at Wilson’s Fitness, Scott Blvd. phases 2 and 3, Nifong and Vawter at Old Mill Creek and Sinclair, and the list goes on.

So why is Tootie tooting for $7,000,000 to be spent on the Grasslands project? Well… she lives there.

She lives there, her in-laws live there and have for years, and Tootie Burns is the longtime board secretary of the Grasslands Neighborhood Association. A good portion of the $7,000,000 – of our hard earned tax dollars – for this project will be spent purchasing Grasslands properties. Some of the property purchased by the government at fair market value (some of the highest in town) belongs to Tootie’s in-laws. Most of the properties slated for purchase and demolition are beautiful old homes that have, much to the chagrin of “some” Grasslands homeowners, been converted to rental properties. Rumor has it that some influential folks in the Grasslands want to be rid of these rental properties and they want the taxpayer to fit the bill.

From the Columbia Daily Tribune:

While Jones mentioned the project several times throughout the forum, Burns did not address Jones’ remarks during the forum. In an interview after the forum, she said she voted in favor of the project when the matter was put before the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, because it could potentially ease congestion at one of the city’s busiest intersections and could improve pedestrian safety along the roadway.

“I don’t want to have a student get killed” trying to cross Providence, Burns said. She said that the second phase of the project could result in a portion of her mother-in-law’s property at the corner of Providence and Stadium being taken for right of way.

So it’s for the children… well… not so much. There is already a stoplight at Rollins and Providence where students can cross in relative safety, although many are too lazy to walk two blocks to use it. It’s not about the safety, it’s about bulldozing beautiful old homes that have fallen into the hands owners who have chosen to rent them to students.

Tootie

Tootie Burns

Tootie does admit that the sale of the Niedermeyer should not be stopped because there are no legitimate laws to prevent it, but she certainly laments the loss of this historic building.

From Tootie’s campaign Facebook page:

tootie fb neidermeyer

So what should “our priorities as a City” be regarding the beautiful old homes in the Grasslands neighborhood? What should “our priorities as a City” be regarding dropping $7,000,000 of taxpayer money on a wasteful project at the behest of Tootie and her Grasslands friends instead of funding other road improvements across our city? What should “our priorities as a City” be when spending millions of dollars of other people’s money? Should “our priorities as a City” and SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS of road infrastructure money be directed by single-issue, neighborhood politics?

It seems to me that we need to find someone with integrity to answer these questions. Tootie obviously doesn’t fit the bill.

Here is a much cheaper fix for the left turns out of the Grasslands neighborhood. Build a couple of short streets, one across the Phi Psi lawn to the existing Rollins light and one from the end of Brandon to the existing light at the A.L. Gustin Golf Course. There is no need for a new light. If Providence must be widened, take 5 or 6 feet of lawn from both sides of the road and widen it. $2 million ought to cover that.

The Keep Columbia Free Plan

The Keep Columbia Free Plan

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Did Mark Jones Commit A Major Ethics Violation?

mark jones 3

Today, Keep Columbia Free uncovered documents that indicate Fifth Ward Columbia City Council candidate Mark Jones may have been involved in some unsavory campaign finance shenanigans during the 2002 election. Candidate Jones is a long-time Democrat political operative and campaign strategist who is currently employed by the National Education Association (NEA), the largest and, arguably, most destructive public-sector labor union in the country. He faces newcomer Tootie Burns and former City Councilwoman Laura Nauser in the February 5th special election to fill the seat vacated by Helen Anthony. 

MEC documents indicate that in 2006, Democrat Campaign Committeeman Jones was fined $2500  for his part in the commingling funds among Democrat campaign committees and filing reports for Treasurer Ann Jones.

From the MEC website:

H2450 Council to Protect Missouri’s Values, et al. The Commission accepted a signed Joint
Stipulation of Facts and Waiver of Hearing, Conclusions of Law and issued Consent Orders
which require the Council to Protect Missouri’s Values, et al. to pay a fine of $799.85,
Respondent Ann Jones to pay a fine of $200.00 and Respondent Mark Jones to pay a fine of
$2,500.00 pursuant to Sections 105.961.4(6) and 130.072 RSMo.

$2,500 is a significant fine for an individual so the commission must have felt his actions were egregious. This kind of staggering ethics violation indicates a complete disregard for Missouri’s campaign finance laws.

Click HERE to read the report.

This news should have all eyes on Jones’s MEC filings for his current campaign committee. If you take a look at his first report, you’ll notice a couple of interesting things. The first is that you have to scroll for quite a while to find a local donor. In fact, the overwhelming bulk of his money comes from out of town and out of state — certainly odd for a city council campaign.

The second item of note is the listing of small donations. The MEC only requires that donation over $100 be itemized. I’ve often seen this tactic used by Missouri Democrats who are being funded primarily by folks outside their own constituency. In order to give the appearance of  significant local funding, a candidate will itemize small donations, even $5 and $10 in Jones’s case, which also serves to muddy the water for anyone digging through the report.

You can read Jones’s campaign finance report by clicking HERE.

In a recent Missourian story, Jones indicated that he believes his foreign funding won’t be a turnoff to voters since he has lived and worked in Columbia since graduating from college. This blogger believes just the opposite. If the people who you live and work next to won’t give you money, they probably won’t show up to a special election to vote for you. 

 

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