LADUE, Mo. ( -- A local leader left his car running and it got stolen, but the concern for some is whether the taxpayers are footing the bill.

“The sun was out, there was traffic, so honestly I had no idea what happened, because it happened so fast,” said Sam Alton.

As Chief of Staff for St. Louis Prosecutor Wesley Bell, Alton said he didn't expect to become the victim of a crime.

“Certainly, I didn’t think it was going to happen at that moment,” Alton said.

According to a Ladue police report obtained by News 4, on Saturday July 11, Alton left his vehicle running in the driveway of his Ladue home. Then, someone jumped in and took off.

The SUV was found abandoned five days later, miles away in North St. Louis County.

It was totaled, according to Alton.

“At least the back window was blown out, the inside was completely trashed, the undercarriage trashed,” he said.

While Alton said he learned never to keep his car running unattended, some people say, that's not the only concern.

News 4 only learned Alton's car had been stolen after we received an anonymous letter earlier this week. It claimed Alton is "fleecing the taxpayers" by not replacing his personal car, and solely using a county-owned vehicle to drive around instead.

The vehicle in question was a red Chevy Tahoe. It used to driven by Prosecutor Bell, who has since received a new public-owned vehicle.

Alton had previously declined to drive a taxpayer-funded car, but said he planned to drive this one indefinitely.

“It makes more sense obviously because I don’t have a car, but it makes more sense to me now, because after having been on the job for since January 2019 I realize how much we use them, how much I use it in the course of work, so it makes sense to me,” Alton said.

Alton said he drives to crime scenes and community meetings. He defends the office buying and using take-home cars, even during a pandemic.

“The way that we try to engage with the community, we try and are out there as much as we can be. I understand the sentiment, but I would say that’s the nature of our job and what we do, and they serve a purpose,” he said.

“I think taxpayers should be very concerned on how their money is spent,” said Patrick Ishmael, of the Show Me Institute. He said Alton's use of the car may not be acceptable.

“Like a police officer who may need to go to and from work in a police car, that may be completely understandable as a use of public property. But when you are talking about somebody who is a Chief of Staff or elected official, there is a certain expectation that folks are going to pay their own way as professionals,” he said.

Ishmael said because Alton's paid a salary of $130,000, he should have to pay for his own ride.

“He has no excuse not to replace the other vehicle that he lost with another vehicle he purchases on his own," he said. 

Allowed to drive it anywhere, Alton acknowledges the car is a perk but one he says that's allowed.

“If they are allotted to our office, that’s how we are going to use them,” Alton said.

With car thefts on the rise, he says, his focus is catching the criminals.

“This is something that not only myself personally but the office takes seriously. But as the officers work their case, I am going to work them and hopefully find the person who did it,” Alton said.

According to budget documents, the Prosecutor’s Office spent about $85,000 for the new cars, but that had been previously budgeted, they say, as part of regular management of their fleet and had nothing to do with any type of pandemic funding.

The previous first assistant under the former prosecutor Bob McCulloch also had a take home car, but there was no official role as chief of staff.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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