Two Jackson County legislators have confirmed that the FBI is asking questions about a contract worth up to $75,000 the county reached with a consultant with ties to former Missouri House speaker John Diehl.
The Star has also learned that members of Diehl’s former Capitol staff have also been questioned about the contract granted to Brittany Burke and her St. Louis firm, Tactas.
County Legislator Dan Tarwater and former legislator Theresa Garza Ruiz have told The Star they spoke with agents from the FBI in recent weeks about the contract. The agents asked questions about how the county came to hire Burke and how the legislative process worked.
Garza Ruiz said she told the FBI that the contract was awarded on merit, not because of any relationship Burke had with the former House speaker.
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The contract, agreed to unanimously by the county legislature in November for health care consulting, is with Burke. It was the lowest of two bids submitted. The contract includes three 12-month options to extend the arrangement.
Burke, a public relations specialist, said her firm was selected based on merit in a public bidding process. She also said she was told explicitly by authorities that her firm is not the target of the investigation. Burke declined to be interviewed further by The Star. Diehl did not return a reporter’s calls Tuesday.
A spokesman said County Executive Mike Sanders had not spoken with the FBI.
Burke has said she had an affair with Diehl last year. Diehl, who is married, has also confirmed that they had a physical relationship. He resigned from the General Assembly in May after The Star reported that he had carried on a sexting relationship with a former statehouse intern.
The recommendation to hire Burke last year came from Sanders’ office, Garza Ruiz said. Video of the Nov. 24 meeting of the Finance and Audit Committee showed Sanders’ senior adviser, Cathy Jolly, a former Kansas City councilwoman and state lawmaker, recommending Burke for the work. At the time, Jolly said it was “good government” to have someone like Burke develop a plan for how the county was handling health care in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s passage.
In a memo to Barbara Casamento, the county’s purchasing supervisor, Jolly wrote Burke “had experience working with the Missouri legislature and is currently performing similar work for two other Missouri organizations.”
Burke briefly addressed the committee and answered questions from Legislator Ken Bacchus before the committee signed off on the contract.
“It didn’t raise any red flags at the time,” Garza Ruiz said.
She said she spoke to the FBI about a month ago and said the agent asked about Burke’s ties to Diehl. Garza Ruiz said she knew nothing about that. Tarwater said he talked to an investigator on the phone last week.
Sanders spokesman Calvin Williford said Burke has turned in hundreds of pages examining the impact of the health care law and how low-income residents of the county are being served. He added that Burke has done some “really good work.” Williford said Sanders had no contact with Diehl during the legislative session.
The Star’s Jason Hancock contributed to this report.