ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A St. Louis County private investigator admitted he placed GPS tracking devices on the vehicles of two of Missouri’s top government officials. He says tracking people is part of his business, and sometimes that requires him to place GPS tracking devices on private vehicles.
Mike Bland, who is a licensed private investigator in Missouri, says he was recently hired to place GPS trackers on private vehicles owned by Drew Erdmann and Sarah Steelman.
Erdmann is the state’s Chief Operating Officer under Governor Mike Parson. Steelman is the commissioner at the Office of Administration, which handles purchasing and contracts for the state.
Bland claims the incident is now under investigation by the FBI and Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“They questioned me for five hours myself,” Bland said.
Bland claims Erdmann discovered the device and reported it to police, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol tracked it back to Bland.
He admits he placed the trackers, but says he was doing it as part of a business transaction with a man named John Wall. Wall is affiliated with a Farmington based company called Assymetric Solutions. According to the company's website it offers military, law enforcement, and civilian training.
According to his Linkedin profile and a tweet by the Arizona Commerce Authority, Wall is also associated with a company called Redlyst. Bland says Wall told him why he wanted to track Erdmann and Steelman.
“He was trying to find information, why they had not used his facial recognition company, Redlyst, which he teamed up with other people and developed. [He] was trying to prove an extramarital affair between Drew Erdmann and Sarah Steelman," Bland said, who added, “I don’t know how [the information] was going to be used.”
News 4 is unaware of any inappropriate relationship between Erdmann and Steelman, and according to a spokesperson with the Office of Administration there is “no record of Assymetric Solutions or Redlyst having applied for any state contracts. Likewise the Office of Administration has not awarded any contracts for facial recognition around the capitol or governor’s mansion.”
After being questioned by authorities, Bland is convinced he didn’t get the entire truth. Referring to authorities he added, “they told me themselves I wasn’t given the real story.” Bland also said the story takes another twist.
Bland said he had trouble finding Steelman’s vehicle, but claims he was assisted by Wall and State Representative Dottie Bailey. He described the phone call he received from Wall the day the GPS tracker was placed on Steelman’s personal vehicle.
“Next thing he calls me, kind of adrenaline going, out of breath, telling me he had located Sarah Steelman’s Black F150. He and Dottie were basically pursuing it up Highway 63 toward Columbia,” Bland recalled. Bland says he met Wall and Bailey at a golf course north of Jefferson City, where Bland placed the GPS tracker on Steelman’s vehicle.
We reached out to Dottie Bailey to ask if she was involved.
Over the phone Bailey said, “Ok, so this guy is a whack a loon. Oh shoot I have another call coming in. I don’t know - so many damn stories going on. I’m working on other stuff. I appreciate the call thanks though,” then the phone hung up. A follow-up call to Bailey was not returned. Nobody answered the door at her home.
We left multiple messages for Wall but he never returned any of them. Bland claims he was only doing his job, and he is not a political operative. He says he had never heard of Erdman or Steelman prior to being asked to track their vehicles.
Bland claims he was paid $2,500 to do the job, and showed us an online transaction with Wall’s name and a payment for $2,500.
A spokesperson for Parson's office released a statement saying ,“Unfortunately, a governor staff member and cabinet member were victims of potential criminal activity that was tied to their roles as public servants. The harassing behavior was immediately reported to authorities. We are complying fully with the investigation and hope to hold those responsible accountable.”
Bland says he’s coming forward because the state is planning to question him about an unrelated matter involving his private investigator license, and he doesn’t want the incident to tarnish or cost him his license. Bland says placing GPS tracking devices on vehicles is not against the law in Missouri.
Matthew Bodie teaches privacy law at SLU. He argues it is a trespass to place something on a vehicle that belongs to someone else. He adds it’s possible there’s a law that would override that general law for private investigators, but he’s not aware of any laws that create that exemption in Missouri.