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An FBI spokesperson said the agency cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
By Steve Vockrodt and Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent
Federal law enforcement was still seeking information as recently as last summer about medical marijuana licenses in Missouri and utility contracts in Independence that have captured the attention of the FBI for years.
That’s according to sworn testimony from a Kansas City-area businessman that surfaced publicly last week.
The deposition of Joseph Campbell, owner of real estate development company Titan Fish, was conducted in November as part of an ongoing defamation lawsuit he and his company filed in 2020 against the city of Independence and two members of the city council. Excerpts of the deposition were made public last week after it was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court by Independence’s attorneys.
Campbell testified that agents from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Unit interviewed him on July 13, 2021.
The questions, Campbell testified, centered on his involvement in a pair of Independence utility contracts and the licensing of medical marijuana in Missouri – the latest indication that a corruption probe potentially extended public could be underway.
Campbell in his deposition indicated that the FBI wanted to speak to him further, but had not done so at the time he testified.
During the deposition, Campbell said that as part of his July interview, federal agents asked him about several people involved in state and local politics, including:
- Independence Mayor Eileen Weir
- former Independence Council members Curt Dougherty and Tom Van Camp
- Zach Walker, Independence City Manager
- Steve Tilley, lobbyist from Missouri
- former Missouri House Speaker John Diehl
Campbell also testified that Gov. Mike Parson’s (R) name came up during the interview. But the transcript of the deposition that was filed last week in Jackson County Circuit Court does not contain Campbell’s full testimony – only 27 pages of at least 180 pages were included – and does not further explain why. some of the names like Parson and others have been discussed.
Campbell’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the document two days after it appeared on the public record, arguing that it should not have been filed because the deposition has not yet concluded. Campbell did not return interview requests, and his attorney, Mark McFarland, declined to discuss the matter.
Neither Campbell nor any of the people he was asked about during his interview last summer have been accused of wrongdoing regarding Missouri’s independence or political affairs. Campbell repeatedly stated during his deposition that his only involvement in the FBI’s independence investigation was as a witness.
An FBI spokesperson said the agency cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
The files offer new insight into an FBI investigation that has transfixed state and local politics since news first surfaced in 2019.
In 2017, Campbell purchased the old Rockwood Golf Course in Independence from a company that had owned it for several years. Months later, Independence City Council voted to buy the golf course from its real estate company, Titan Fish, for nearly $1 million, nearly double what it paid to buy the property. The land was used to build a solar farm.
The deal drew attention to a series of donations to Weir days before she was to vote with a majority of board members to approve the purchase. The donations came from four political action committees linked to Tilley, a former state legislator and longtime friend and adviser to the governor.
Tilley’s lobbying firm represents the Independence Electric Utility and the company chosen to operate the solar farm.
Weir has denied any wrongdoing related to the donations.
Campbell’s testimony reveals that it is also tied to Independence’s other 2017 utility contract that has come under FBI scrutiny: the demolition of the Missouri City Power Plant owned by Independence Power & Light.
The Independence City Council awarded a St. Louis company called Environmental Operations Inc. a $10 million contract to demolish the plant, even though another bidder offered to do the job for less than half the price. this amount.
A majority of Independence City Council approved the contract despite opposition from some council members and a council that advises the city utility.
Campbell testified that he was involved in the Missouri City Power Plant deal through a consulting contract he had with Environmental Operations. He testified that the land the power plant sits on would become “very valuable” given its proximity to a port along the Missouri River.
Campbell testified that he was originally supposed to receive half the ownership of Missouri City once it was reallocated. But environmental operations officials later told him the company had to own the entire site because of an indemnification agreement with Independence. So, instead, Campbell testified that he would get an 11.3% reduction in the contract.
In 2020, the Kansas City Star reported that a federal grand jury issued subpoenas to Independence seeking a number of documents related to the two utility agreements, including minutes of private meetings held by the Independence City Council where the transactions were discussed.
Campbell’s testimony also deals with Diehl, who resigned as speaker of the Missouri House in 2015 after it was revealed he had sent inappropriate text messages to a legislative intern. Campbell said Diehl, who became Environmental Operations’ general counsel after his resignation, asked if Campbell would claim the two had an attorney-client relationship.
Campbell testified that he understood that Diehl had asked to form such an arrangement in order to avoid having to turn over certain documents that the government had requested through a subpoena.
Campbell testified that Diehl never represented him in a legal capacity.
A request for comment from Diehl has been forwarded to JR Hobbs of Kansas City law firm Wyrsch, Hobbs & Mirakian. He denied Campbell’s claims.
“Our company has represented [Environmental Operations Inc.] in the course of the investigation, including the production of documents and subpoena requests, and there is no accuracy in any assertion that Mr. Diehl ever advised anyone to invoke the privilege if he did not apply,” Hobbs said, later adding, “Mr. Diehl denies any possible assertion that he extended solicitor-client privilege at any time. »
Campbell’s testimony also reveals that he was helping fund a company called Herbal Health that applied for licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana. He said he was asked about marijuana licensing during the July 2021 interview with federal law enforcement.
Tilley was registered as a lobbyist for Herbal Health from January 2019 to November 2020 and has numerous clients in the medical marijuana industry. He did not respond to a request for comment.
In November 2020, the head of Missouri’s medical marijuana program testified under oath that a federal grand jury subpoena his agency received was related to an FBI investigation in Independence.
Medical marijuana regulators in Missouri received two more federal grand jury subpoenas last year, each redacted before being released to the media at the behest of the feds to obfuscate records sought by law enforcement. order.
Shortly after reports first surfaced of FBI interest in Independence’s utility deals, Titan Fish led a consortium that submitted a proposal to acquire and remodel the Blue Valley Power Plant. of Independence Power & Light, which will soon be closed.
Tilley was listed in Titan Fish’s Blue Valley proposal.
A Kansas City Star report from March 2020 cited two members of the Independence City Council who had expressed reservations about doing business with anyone who might be investigated by the FBI.
Campbell in 2020 sued Independence and the two board members, claiming their comments defamed him.
Campbell’s lawsuit is ongoing, though he has tried to settle with the city whether the council divests the closed Blue Valley power station to Titan Fish, grants a tax abatement and leases portions of the power station’s land, according to an article earlier this month in the Kansas City Star.
Weir testified in a deposition in the case. Weeks later, his lawyer convinced a judge to seal his deposition after learning that an unidentified third party had tried to obtain it. On Monday, the Kansas City Star filed a motion asking a Jackson County judge to unseal Weir’s deposition, arguing that his testimony is a matter of public importance and that sealing it violated the First Amendment.
Weir is running for a third term as mayor and faces a crowded primary election next month.
In an unrelated case, the IRS seized two vehicles belonging to Campbell on May 20 and reported that it may seize a lakeside home in Morgan County, Missouri, which is also owned by Campbell. An affidavit written by an IRS agent in support of the seizures alleges that Campbell, through his various businesses, fraudulently obtained government COVID-19 relief funds and that these funds were used to purchase the cars and the lake house.
This story was first published by Missouri Independent.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.