Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is there corruption in Joplin?

Joplin City Council is meeting in closed session at this moment going over a report filed by Tom Loraine, the Osage Beach attorney who was hired November 11 to head the investigation into 
activities of council members Bill Scearce and Mike Woolston. Loraine, who at one time worked in the U. S. Attorney’s office, has considerable experience in this type of investigation.

The cost of the probe was put at $45,000, Any further expenses would have to come before the council for approval.
City Attorney Brian Head said he had looked into a number of law firms and professional investigators before deciding on Loraine.
Loraine has dealt with ethical violations in government office, Head said, as well as dealing with grand jury investigations. “He comes highly recommended.” The following description of Loraine’s record is provided on his law firm’s website:
Tom Loraine received his A.B. degree in 1968 and his J.D. degree in 1971 from St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri. He is sole of his firm Loraine & Associates in Osage Beach, Missouri. Before entering private practice he was employed with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. During the latter tenure he was interim Chief of Lands and Environmental Section for three years which included extensive real estate related trial work. In addition, he has tried over twenty-seven (27) federal jury trials and twenty (20) state jury trials to a successful conclusion.
He began private practice in 1976 in the Lake Ozark/Osage Beach, Missouri area. He is the President of his own title company known as Lake Title Company and has done extensive real estate work, both residential and commercial, including development of condominium projects.
Loraine will charge $150 an hour, one-third of what some of the law firms quoted, Head said, with a cap of $40,000. The other $5,000 is for expenses.
The investigation comes as a result of accusations that were made by Searce against City Manager Mark Rohr during a Sept. 20 news conference. Searce said Rohr was passing along information about an FBI investigation that resulted int he conviction of two men who were running a bookmaking operation out of a building owned by Scearce.
Scearce said Rohr was doing this in response to the city councilman’s effort to have Rohr removed as city manager.
“Mr. Rohr is attempting to use this decades old FBI investigation to discredit me politically following my recent statements, and vote to ask for his resignation. This is a continuation of the bullying and intimidation tactics that are a part of Mr. Rohr’s management style.
In 1991, I opened a temporary employment service at 1201 E 15th Street, over 22 years ago. From 1991-1995 I rented a small building on the lot to a gentlemen who in 2012 plead guilty to bookmaking between the years of 2007 to 2011. During the FBI investigation of his bookmaking operation, I was visited by and fully cooperated with agents of the FBI.
In March, I became aware of three meetings which involved former and present Mayor’s, the police chief and city manager concerning the bookmaking operation. I asked the city manager to meet and have the police chief present to discuss why he shared information with non-law enforcement people about a FBI investigation. We met and explained why. I was not happy, but was satisfied with his explanation.
Rohr issued a statement shortly after Scearce’s news conference:
Mr. Scearce, in his statement, goes on to claim that I am attempting to use a decades- old FBI investigation to discredit him. First of all, it is not a decades-old FBI investigation, as he would have you believe, but is much more recent. Secondly, I am not mounting any campaign against him. The local paper is working on an article that I was asked to comment on. I do believe this played a role in the recent attempt Mr. Scearce led regarding my employment with the city. He has stated to many that he wants to be mayor. He will not be able to do so if I tell all that I know regarding these circumstances. Additionally, having a strong personality sitting in the city manager’s chair, would prevent him from imposing his version of the good-old-boy network system of government that has held Joplin back in the past.
Initially, the investigation was only going to be geared toward Searce, but at the last council meeting, Woolston was added, to address concerns about his involvement in the buying and selling of real estate in the 20th Street area following the Joplin Tornado.
In a statement during the Oct. 22 meeting, Woolston, holding up the documents, said he would provide the investigator with complete records on the land deals and a letter from the head of the company he was working for at the time stating that Woolston did not profit off any of the land deals, except for one that took place before the city entered into a development contract with Wallace-Bajjali.

Woolston also said he had documents to refute the claim that his dealings had driven up land prices in the 20th Street area.

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