Government & Politics

Frank White using campaign funds to pay legal fees related to ongoing investigations

A look at Frank White’s financial woes

The Jackson County executive and former Kansas City Royal has experienced financial problems.
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The Jackson County executive and former Kansas City Royal has experienced financial problems.

Jackson County Executive Frank White took half the cash left over from his re-election campaign fund late last year to pay legal bills he had incurred in connection with ongoing state and federal investigations into his personal finances and other matters.

White listed the $10,000 payment to the Lathrop Gage law firm on his latest quarterly campaign finance report. The Dec. 27 transaction, which is allowable under a new interpretation of Missouri campaign finance laws, is the latest sign that the one-time Kansas City Royals second baseman turned politician remains of interest to criminal investigators.

The Missouri Attorney General’s office began its probe of unspecified matters related to White last June after fielding a broad referral from county prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. The AG’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the current status of that investigation, nor would Baker comment on the referral.

Federal authorities also have a still-active investigation of county government that multiple sources say touches on some issues in which White has involvement.

The lead attorney representing White, former federal prosecutor Jean Paul Bradshaw II, said Tuesday that so far neither the law firm nor his client have been approached by the attorney general, the FBI or federal prosecutors.

“I’m not comfortable talking about any advice we’ve given (White) and that sort of thing,” he said. “If there are investigations, we are not the ones conducting them and I can say we’ve not been contacted by any authorities at this point.”

The Star reported in September that the FBI has been looking into a former lobbying contract between the county and the Polsinelli law firm. The contract was initiated by White’s predecessor and now convicted felon, Mike Sanders, and continued into the first year of White’s now three-year-old administration. Polsinelli said at the time that it was cooperating with authorities.

The FBI does not comment on ongoing investigations. But according to multiple sources, agents are also interested in knowing more about White’s private finances, specifically a transaction in 2016 where a county contractor is said to have helped White keep his house by helping him cover past-due mortgage payments to avoid a foreclosure sale.

Baker began looking into that and other issues after The Star published an article in late 2017 citing sources who broadly outlined that April 2016 deal. A subsequent article raised questions about White’s eligibility to hold office because he falsely swore in 2016 that he owed no back state or local taxes when he filed to run in that year’s election.

He later acknowledged that he was mistaken and called the error “unintentional” after the newspaper reported that at the time he declared himself up to date on his tax bills he owed more than $5,000 in delinquent state income taxes dating back to 2013.

Candidates who are behind on their taxes are disqualified from running for office. Lying on the form is perjury.

White’s payment to Lathrop Gage came two months after the Missouri Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion that gave candidates and office holders the OK to use campaign donations to pay legal fees arising from a federal criminal investigation.

Previously, Missouri law had been interpreted to limit the use of campaign funds to pay legal fees associated with alleged violations of campaign finance law only.

That may have been the legislature’s intent, ethics commission executive director Elizabeth L. Ziegler wrote in the advisory opinion dated Oct. 26. But she said the law’s broad language did not forbid using campaign funds to pay reasonable attorney’s fees related to a federal investigation. Because of that, she said, paying legal fees is allowable “in any matter resulting in an investigation arising form holding or running for public office.”

The opinion was in response to a request from an attorney representing Sanders, who wanted to know whether he could pay his criminal defense fees out of his campaign fund after pleading guilty to a federal public corruption charge.

However, Sanders did not end up paying his defense lawyer from his campaign fund. Days after the commission’s opinion was issued, a judge issued a temporary retraining order forbidding any payments to anyone out of that campaign fund. A sometimes political foe of Sanders had sought the order because he was worried all the money would be gone before he could lay claim to some of it as payment to settle a still-pending legal dispute.

White was under no such restriction when he authorized his campaign treasurer and daughter-in-law Rechele White to pay Lathrop Gage.

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Mike Hendricks is a member of The Star’s investigations and watchdog reporting team. Send tips and story ideas in confidence by email to mhendricks@kcstar.com, Twitter direct message @kcmikehendricks, or anonymously via Signal encrypted message at 816-234-4738
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