Missouri’s state auditor campaigned Tuesday for a new state law that would make it easier to investigate and prosecute public officials who steal from or defraud taxpayers.
As proposed, the law would increase penalties for convictions and make it easier to get money back for taxpayers, state Auditor Nicole Galloway said during a Kansas City news conference with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
As an example, Galloway described how a county collector caught giving thousands of dollars in unjustified property tax abatements to a family member currently would face a misdemeanor charge. If the bill passes, such a crime would become a Class E felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
The bill also would lengthen the time prosecutors can try to get money restored to taxpayers. And it would give the auditor’s office authority to help investigate allegations raised at the municipal and county government level. Currently, no provision in state law gives her office authority to send in forensic auditors even when misconduct is strongly suspected, Galloway said.
“Since I took office, my office has identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraud, theft and inappropriately spent public money by local or county officials,” Galloway said. “It is my hope that this legislation will move swiftly to the governor’s desk in the new year.”
Sen. Bob Dixon, a Republican from Springfield, pre-filed Senate Bill 176, which has bipartisan support of county prosecutors statewide, Galloway said.
That includes Baker, who said Tuesday that a felony charge can be much more appropriate at times than the current misdemeanor charge.
“This also gives us a new arm for reaching back and collecting that restitution,” Baker said. “Sometimes we need more tools to get that done.”