St. Louis, MO – St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has been traveling all over the world as a guest of police reform organizations but failed to report the trips as required by law.
Sources told KMOV that Gardner is out of the office a couple times every month jetting to everywhere from Portugal to Selma, Alabama on various organization’s tabs.
Some of the trips were paid for by Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP), a group that purports to support progressive prosecutors.
Gardner posted pictures to social media that showed her at events in New Haven, Connecticut and Houston, in addition to Portugal and Selma, KMOV reported.
Fair and Just Prosecution has publicly applauded Gardner on multiple occasions, including most recently the charges she brought against St. Louis homeowners Mark and Patricia McCloskey after they waved guns at violent protesters who had overrun their neighborhood.
By law, every elected official in St. Louis must report their travel and whether it was paid for with public or private funds, KMOV reported.
In some cases, Missouri law requires additional information about exactly who paid for travel and lodging.
Gardner reported taking trips on Fair and Just Prosecution’s dime in 2017, KMOV reported.
The prosecutor filed reports that said she’d traveled with the organization to New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
However, she had to file a separate city form the same year on which she declared she had taken trips to Cleveland, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, but did not disclose the trips to New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia, KMOV reported.
A public information request by KMOV revealed that Gardner didn’t report any travel in 2018 or 2019, but that doesn’t mean the prosecutor didn’t go anywhere.
Sources told the television station that the circuit attorney’s travel had been problematic because at times she was unreachable, causing a halt to progress in her office.
The sources told KMOV that decisions related to budget, grants, and staffing were delayed by Gardner’s absence.
“It’s also what wasn’t happening in your office in this case, the Circuit Attorney, because you were absent,” Patrick Ishmael, of the watchdog organization the Show Me Institute, told KMOV.
Ishmael said when elected officials fail to report something, it’s natural for the public to ask why it wasn’t disclosed.
“Whether its one or 100 trips, trips like that should be reported and I think the public should expect it,” he said.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell also took trips with Fair and Just Prosecution, including one to Europe, but KMOV said it wasn’t able to determine whether he had properly disclosed them.
Ishmael said it was time for the travel disclosure laws to be enforced.
“If you are going to violate the law, there has to be some consequence to that,” he told KMOV, and said the public had a right to know who was picking up the tab for the junkets.
KMOV asked the Circuit Attorney’s Office for a full accounting of Gardner’s trips and a response to the allegation that she had failed to disclose many of them.
“Since shortly after her election, Circuit Attorney Gardner has been an active member in Fair and Just Prosecution’s network of progressive prosecutors,” the office responded in a statement. “She was invited to participate because of her beliefs, values, and goals. Those goals are in line with FJP’s priorities and the same as policies the Circuit Attorney has promised to deliver for St. Louis since day one.”
“The suggestion that there is any quid pro quo involved here is patently absurd,” the statement continued. “By working with FJP, she has access to a network of prosecutors who are also implementing change in their communities across the country, prosecutors who are working to create a fairer, more equitable justice system and move beyond the failed policies of the past that created our mass incarceration crisis. Ms. Gardner has been able to share ideas and strategies, learn new approaches, and benefit from the experience and expertise of others. Her work with FJP has benefitted the office and, by extension, the people of St. Louis.”
But sources told KMOV that although Gardner came back from trips full of ideas, none of them were ever implemented in her own office, much to the frustration of her team.
“Circuit Attorney Gardner refuses to apologize for seeking [reasonable] opportunities to further her knowledge and access prosecutors from throughout the nation for best practice,” the statement from the prosecutor’s office continued. “The suggestion that she would be persuaded to follow an alternative that is not focused on addressing the root causes of crime for a few plane tickets and hotel rooms is insulting.”
“The Circuit Attorney is confident that the public will see through this veiled attempt to disparage her and her efforts to continue to change our criminal justice system to be more just and fair,” Gardner’s office wrote.
Fair and Just Prosecution refused to confirm how many trips Gardner and Bell had taken as their guests, KMOV reported.
They said it was standard practice to pay for prosecutors’ food, hotel, and travel to their events, and said only a fraction of their funding came from a George Soros-related organization.
The St. Louis City Counselor told KMOV on Monday that he was going to start checking to see who wasn’t in compliance with travel reporting laws.
The penalty for failure to disclose is a $500 fine.