Government & Politics

St. Louis attorney has influence over ‘all things Eric Greitens’

Gov. Eric Greitens and St. Louis lawyer Mark Bobak
Gov. Eric Greitens and St. Louis lawyer Mark Bobak

Gov. Eric Greitens was about to weigh in on a proposed new soccer stadium in St. Louis, and his inner circle was working to craft the right message.

Just a week after taking office in January 2017, and following a campaign in which the Missouri Republican was highly critical of using state resources for private projects, Greitens was walking a fine line on the soccer stadium.

In an email discussion, Greitens' press secretary wanted feedback from the governor's most trusted advisers, including his chief of staff and senior campaign aide.

Also included in the discussion was a former chief legal officer for Anheuser-Busch who has no formal role in either the campaign or the government office — Mark Bobak.

A friend and confidant of the governor, Bobak has long been considered among his most influential advisers.

His name may not appear on a government or campaign payroll, but those close to Greitens say there's no mistaking that Bobak has the ear of the governor.

Now that the governor is facing a tsunami of crises — two felony charges in St. Louis and calls for his impeachment in Jefferson City — Bobak's stature seems only to have grown.

"He may be the only guy with enough influence to tell Eric to stand down," a former Greitens aide said of Bobak's relationship with the governor.

Bobak — who did not respond Friday to requests for comment for this story — is starting to draw attention for the role he plays in Greitens' personal, political and public life.

His place in Greitens' world also is sparking questions about a private attorney, presumably paid out of the governor’s own pocket, being involved in public policies without being subject to the transparency or conflict-of-interest laws that apply to government officials or lobbyists.

“It’s not common at all, and it is highly unethical,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a national watchdog group that lobbies for stronger ethics laws.

“We’ve seen this happen very, very rarely at the federal level, and the only one I can think of was Carl Icahn in the Donald Trump administration.”

Icahn served as a close adviser to the president, Holman said. He had access to the White House and access to administration resources, but he had no title and Trump said he was just an an unofficial adviser. Holman filed a complaint and Icahn eventually was pushed out.

“I argued that if he wasn’t classified as a government official, he should be classified as a lobbyist, as a person making expenditures to influence public policy.”

If Bobak is influencing public policy in a similar unofficial advisory capacity to Greitens, he’s no longer just an adviser, Holman said: He has a governmental role and should be subject to ethics and disclosure requirements.

Greitens' office declined to comment on whether Bobak has an unofficial role in the administration.

Bobak and his wife were major donors to the charity Greitens founded, The Mission Continues. He was an influential adviser during Greitens' 2016 campaign.

A Missouri House committee that has been investigating allegations of misconduct by Greitens released a report on Wednesday focusing on his use of The Mission Continues’ donor list to get his 2016 campaign off the ground.

The report, which included testimony from a handful of former Greitens employees, offers a rare view inside the nascent political campaign and paints a picture of Bobak as a key figure in the campaign’s infancy.

Daniel Laub, Greitens’ former campaign manager, testified that when he came on board in 2014, Bobak was already serving as “Eric's personal attorney or attorney for The Greitens Group and kind of his legal advisor of all things Eric Greitens.”

When Greitens convened a meeting in December 2014 to talk about the campaign, Laub said Bobak was part of that inner circle.

Michael Hafner, another former political aide for Greitens during the early months of the campaign, testified to the committee that during his time working with Greitens he was communicating with Bobak “almost on a daily basis when I was in the office” and that Bobak had a desk in the campaign office.

Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat, pressed Hafner to explain Bobak’s role on the campaign.

“I don't want to speculate. He was a personal friend of Eric's, too. I didn't know if he was a volunteer advisor or if he was getting paid or exactly what his defined role was, but he certainly was an advisor to myself on political issues,” Hafner said.

Hafner said Bobak was present during strategy sessions when Greitens would prepare talking points on “what the general conservative voter would generally hear from a candidate that's running for a high office in the state.”

Hafner noted that usually “when you decide to run for a particular party you already know the platform of that party. Mr. Greitens was not really familiar with those issues.”

Laub said that Bobak began expressing concerns about the direction of the campaign in 2015 and that he and Bobak were not getting along. Bobak “has Eric’s ear,” Laub testified, and ultimately was part of the reason new campaign leadership was brought in.

“He didn't like a lot of my actions in terms of hiring people and doing things without his, necessarily, stamp of approval,” Laub said. “He didn't like the way I managed the ship.”

Bobak was purportedly one of the main reasons Greitens ended up bringing in Nick Ayers, a veteran GOP consultant who now serves as chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. And Ayers brought in his protege, Austin Chambers, to manage Greitens' campaign on the ground.

Bobak contributed nearly $27,000 to Greitens and served in the volunteer role of co-chair of the 2016 campaign. After Greitens defeated Democrat Chris Koster in November 2016, Bobak served as co-chair of the inauguration planning committee and was one of a handful of "benefactors" who the governor says helped pay for inaugural festivities.

Bobak’s son, Chris, served as deputy treasurer for Greitens’ campaign and was the original registered agent for The Greitens Group.

After the hiring of Ayers and Chambers, Mark Bobak took on less of a day-to-day role with the campaign, although he remained a trusted adviser.

Chambers, by this time Greitens’ campaign manager, lived in Bobak’s home during the 2016 campaign.

As recently as May 31, 2017, Chambers was using Bobak's home address in St. Louis as his address for expense reimbursements he billed to Greitens for Missouri.

Bobak continued to wield influence after Greitens took office, all while remaining off the books. He is not paid by either the governor’s taxpayer-funded office or the campaign.

Greitens hired Michael Roche to serve as chief of staff in his government office. Bobak was instrumental in getting Roche the job, those with knowledge of the hire told The Star. Roche, like Bobak, is a former Anheuser-Busch executive.

Bobak has quietly helped the governor deal with an onslaught of legal crises in recent months.

On Jan. 10, shortly after Greitens delivered his second State of the State address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly, a report by a St. Louis television station accused him of taking a nude photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair and threatening to release it if she spoke publicly about the relationship.

The next month he was indicted by a St. Louis grand jury on a felony charge of invasion of privacy. Last month the St. Louis prosecutor filed a second felony charge against Greitens for allegedly stealing The Mission Continues’ donor list.

The St. Louis law firm defending Greitens against those charges, Dowd Bennett, has ties to Bobak dating to his tenure at Anheuser-Busch. And Bobak has been seen leaving the St. Louis courtroom with Dowd Bennett attorneys in the run-up to Greitens’ May 14 criminal trial.

Bobak’s close ties to the governor is illustrated by the way Greitens purchased a home in the lakefront resort community of Innsbrook, about an hour's drive west of St. Louis.

Greitens used an LLC to buy the home, and the deed lists the mailing address for the LLC as Bobak’s St. Louis home address. The property tax bill also was sent to Bobak’s address.

Limited liability companies are a form of incorporation that offers owners privacy and shields them from liability.

Bobak serves on the board of directors of the CBX Corp., which owns Carrollton Bank, the Illinois-based bank that granted the LLC a $675,000 loan for the purchase of the the $750,000 Innsbrook property, a six-bedroom, four-bathroom home. Bobak also sits on Carrollton’s board.

Carrollton CEO Tom W. Hough would not disclose what committees Bobak sits on at the privately held bank. Hough confirmed to The Star that Bobak referred Greitens' business to the loan committee but did not participate in the decision.

“There is no special treatment given to Eric and Sheena Greitens on this deal," Hough said.

Bobak previously told The Star that he served as Greitens’ lawyer at the closing on the home and that he received the tax bill at his reisdence in St. Louis because he "wanted to make sure his taxes were paid. I wanted to make sure they didn't get lost in the mail.”

Kevin Hall of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.