ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - A News 4 investigation has found that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has been flying all around the country and the globe with organizations who want to reform the criminal justice system.
However, it appears she has violated the law, by not reporting the trips.
Sources tell News 4 Gardner is a frequent flyer. At times during her tenure as prosecutor, sources say, she has often been gone from her office a couple of times every month, jetting around on someone else's dime.
Social media snaps show Gardner posing for pictures in Portugal, listening to conversations in New Haven, Connecticut, smiling with other prosecutors in Houston and linking arms in Selma, Alabama.
They are trips she apparently took in 2018 and 2019, but did not disclose on travel reports, as required by law.
Sources tell News 4 that some of the trips were paid for in full, or in part, by an organization called Fair and Just Prosecution, a group that professes to support progressive prosecutors. The organization has repeatedly applauded many of Gardner’s actions, including the charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey for brandishing guns in the Central West End last month.
The group is also supporting outspoken prosecutors such as Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore, who has also recently responded to criticism about her travel, and acknowledged she took a number of trips, saying they were properly reported.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, too, accompanied Fair and Just Prosecution on trips, including one to Europe, but it’s unclear if he ever disclosed them.
“When something isn't reported, the public has a right to ask well, why wasn't it?” said Patrick Ishmael with the Show Me Institute.
Ishmael says travel reporting requirements are important to building trust in government.
“Elected officials have an obligation to be transparent and that's especially true related to their duty because the public wants to know their officials are working for the interest and not someone else’s,” he said.
St. Louis' laws require every elected official report their travel and whether it was paid for with public or private funds.
Sometimes, Missouri law also mandates information about who paid for travel and lodging.
In 2017, Gardner reported that Fair and Just Prosecution paid for trips to New York, Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia. That year, she also filled out a city form that didn't mention those trips, but did disclose trips to Cleveland, Washington DC and Atlanta.
According to a public information request, she did not disclose any trips at all in 2018 or 2019. To that end, it's so far been unclear just how many trips she's been on. It is also not known who went with her.
“Whether its 1 or 100 trips, trips like that should be reported and I think the public should expect it,” Ishmael said.
In St. Louis, other elected officials are also failing to disclose their travel as required by law.
For 2019, only Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who listed 15 trips, Mayor Lyda Krewson, who listed five trips, and Comptroller Darlene Green, who listed two trips, properly submitted their forms by the May 1 deadline.
But sources tell News 4 that Gardner's traveling was prolific and problematic. They say she was unreachable on trips, making it difficult to get decisions made.
“It’s also what wasn't happening in your office in this case, the Circuit Attorney, because you were absent,” Ishmael said.
Ishmael says the laws requiring travel be reported need to be enforced.
“If you are going to violate the law, there has to be some consequence to that,” he said.
He says the public has a right to know who's paying for what.
“The best disinfectant is to have sunshine come in,” he said.
Sources tell News 4 that decisions delayed or made difficult by Gardner’s travel were related to budgets, grants and personnel issues like hiring and firing.
A lot of the ideas presented during the trips, according to sources, seemed like good ones, but they expressed frustrations that the programs weren't implemented upon Gardner’s return.
News 4 asked for information from Gardner’s office, including a full accounting of trips, and her response to the claims. News 4 received the following statement:
Since shortly after her election, Circuit Attorney Gardner has been an active member in Fair and Just Prosecution’s network of progressive prosecutors. She was invited to participate because of her beliefs, values, and goals. Those goals are in line with FJP’s priorities and the same as policies the Circuit Attorney has promised to deliver for St. Louis since day one. The suggestion that there is any quid pro quo involved here is patently absurd. By working with FJP, she has access to a network of prosecutors who are also implementing change in their communities across the country, prosecutors who are working to create a fairer, more equitable justice system and move beyond the failed policies of the past that created our mass incarceration crisis. Ms. Gardner has been able to share ideas and strategies, learn new approaches, and benefit from the experience and expertise of others. Her work with FJP has benefitted the office and, by extension, the people of St. Louis.
Circuit Attorney Gardner refuses to apologize for seeking reasonably opportunities to further her knowledge and access prosecutors from throughout the nation for best practice. The suggestion that she would be persuaded to follow an alternative that is not focused on addressing the root causes of crime for a few plane tickets and hotel rooms is insulting.
The Circuit Attorney is confident that the public will see through this veiled attempt to disparage her and her efforts to continue to change our criminal justice system to be more just and fair.
News 4 also reached out to Bell's office, but is still awaiting a response.
Fair and Just Prosecution responded to some of News 4's questions, saying they generally will pay for prosecutors’ food, lodging and airfare for their events, which they say is standard practice of other non-profits. They did not, however, confirm the number of trips Gardner or Bell have taken with them.
They also say their funding comes from a number of sources, saying only a tiny fraction came from an entity related to George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist.
Monday, the City Counselor told News 4 that he will now be checking to see who isn't in compliance with reporting compliance. The law's punishment is a $500 fine.
In the original version of this story, Comptroller Darlene Green was not listed among the officials who submitted travel documents on time. This was because in the public information request, the City Register did not include her documentation. The documents were later sent to News 4, and we have updated the copy to reflect that Comptroller Green properly submitted all forms on time.