May 8, 2020

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Latest News, Missouri

ICYMI: Missouri GOP Demands Investigation Into Mike Parson’s Inner Circle

Republican State Rep. Says “Too Many Unanswered Questions” and “Questionable Implementation”

Here is a list of things you may want to avoid during an election year: 1) The FBI questioning one of your closest advisers about multi-million dollar contracts and 2) A member of your own party expanding an investigation into your “inner circle” because there are “too many unanswered questions” about how decisions were made. 

Unfortunately for Gov. Parson, that is exactly what is happening in Missouri.

As if the FBI’s questioning wasn’t bad enough, the Republican-led Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight is now piling on and demanding documentation about Parson’s deputy chief of staff, chief operating officer, and lobbyist Steve Tilley, Parson’s long-time friend and adviser. The inquiries into Parson’s advisers include questions over conflicts of interest and a tainted application program for the state’s medical marijuana program.

This isn’t the first time Parson’s inner circle has been the subject of scrutiny. For years, Missourians have been questioning Parson’s close relationship with Tilley and why Tilley’s client list has more than tripled since Parson became governor. Now, even Missouri Republicans have questions of their own.

Read more about the Republican-led investigation into Parson’s questionable decisions below:

Kansas City Star: Investigation of medical marijuana roll out expands to Missouri governor’s office

A legislative investigation into the roll out of Missouri’s medical marijuana program has resumed, with the inquiry for the first time expanding into Gov. Mike Parson’s inner circle.

The Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight on Thursday sent a letter to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) demanding it turn over a trove of records documenting interactions with industry insiders and detailing how key decisions were made.

The committee is also seeking records involving the governor’s deputy chief of staff, chief operating officer and a lobbyist who is Parson’s longtime adviser and has been under FBI scrutiny for months.

In a letter to DHSS Thursday signed by every member of the committee — six Republicans and three Democrats — state Rep. Robert Ross wrote that the records request stemmed from “too many unanswered questions” by DHSS officials during a series of public hearings earlier this year.

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“I believe our committee is in a position to resume its work to educate Missourians on the questionable implementation by DHSS of the legalization of medical marijuana,” wrote Ross, a Texas County Republican and chairman of the Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight.

Along with the records request, Ross also provided the committee with a copy of a whistle-blower complaint he received in March from someone purporting to be a DHSS employee.

The unsigned letter accuses DHSS officials of lying to legislators during public testimony earlier this year and questions the qualifications and salaries of those running the program.

“Marijuana has been a cluster from day one,” the letter says.

The state Auditor’s Office confirmed to The Star that over the last year it has received two whistleblower complaints specific to the operations and the application process of the medical marijuana program.

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The Missouri House launched its inquiry into the medical marijuana program in February.

At the heart of the investigation has been widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored, as well as allegations that conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications may have tainted the process.

Among the records requested Monday were any documentation of meetings or communication between top DHSS staff and individuals associated with the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, an industry group whose members have been awarded dozens of licenses to grow, transport and sell marijuana.

The committee also asked for records documenting meetings or communications with a company called BeLeaf Medical LLC.

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The lobbyist for both the trade association and BeLeaf Medical is Steve Tilley.

Tilley has been a friend and political adviser to Gov. Parson dating back to when the two served together in the Missouri House more than a decade ago. And over the years, he has been a major fundraiser for Parson, culminating in 2019 when roughly $1 million raised by the pro-Parson “Uniting Missouri PAC” was connected to Tilley.

Since Parson was sworn into office in June 2018, Tilley’s lists of lobbying clients has more than tripled.

The FBI has spoken to a handful of lawmakers, lobbyists and statehouse staff since the start of the Missouri legislative session in January — with questions centering on Tilley’s ties to medical marijuana companies and to Parson’s administration.

Tilley has also been a central figure in FBI questions focused on a pair of questionable utility contracts in Independence. In March, FBI agents sought records from Independence City Hall about one of those contracts that went to a longtime associate of Tilley despite being twice the cost of the other bidder.

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Lawmakers also requested emails and other records between DHSS officials and Parson’s deputy chief of staff, Robert Knodell, regarding the hiring of Lyndall Fraker as the state’s medical marijuana czar.

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Also among the requested records are emails regarding Drew Erdmann, Parson’s chief operating officer.

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Much of the controversy around the medical marijuana program centers on the private company hired by DHSS to score the applications.

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Questions have swirled over whether those connected to company had ties to applicants that could have skewed the process, allegations the company has fiercely denied. Scoring inconsistencies helped fuel concerns about the company’s work — and made up the lion’s share of complaints in the more than 800 appeals of denied licenses.

Lawmakers are seeking records about how DHSS decided to rely on a private company to score bids, as well as how Wise Health Solutions won the contract.

They are also seeking records on several rule changes DHSS enacted throughout the application process that have drawn the ire of many license seekers.

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Ross, the oversight committee chairman, wrote that DHSS has been justifiably focused over the last few weeks on mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The committee did not want to distract from that effort, so the legislative investigation was put on hold.

But Williams said last week that dispensaries will likely open in “late July, early August.” Since the medical marijuana program’s work continues unabated, Ross wrote, “the committee felt a request for documents could also be satisfied.”

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