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Byers' Beat: What an investigation into Faria case prosecutor did—and didn’t—find

"I was disappointed," Faria case prosecutor Leah Chaney says of the investigation she asked for into misconduct allegations against her
Credit: KSDK

LINCOLN COUNTY, Mo. — Former Lincoln County Prosecutor Leah Chaney thought a 2017 investigation into allegations of criminal and ethical misconduct against her included her handling of the notorious Betsy Faria murder case – but she has since learned otherwise.

Chaney, then Leah Askey, asked her county commissioners to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations being made against her, which ranged from mishandling the prosecution of Russ Faria for his wife’s 2011 murder to embezzlement from a nonprofit to heading up a child sex-trafficking operation in conjunction with the county’s juvenile office.

“I remember they were like, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’” she told the I-Team in an exclusive interview in July. “And I said, 'Yes, absolutely, because if I've done any of those things, then you, county commissioners, should have me removed because that's not acceptable.’”

Chaney provided a copy of an affidavit outlining the scope of the investigation, which states, “Certain persons, both known and unknown to the prosecuting attorney, have claimed that they have knowledge that, among other things, the prosecutor has engaged in willful, corrupt or fraudulent violations or neglect of any official duty…In the interest of justice and for the integrity of the office of the prosecuting attorney, such allegations must be investigated.”

But Chaney says she has since learned those allegations only included claims that Chaney was having children taken away from their parents and trafficking them along with the cooperation of the family court system.

Joe McCulloch served as the special prosecutor on the case, which the Missouri Highway Patrol investigated.

“My understanding from the get-go was that it was only into the sex trafficking allegations that were made on social media,” McCulloch said. “The information that was on social media was hearsay and could not be corroborated by anybody or anyone including the person that was alleged to have put on there.”

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Highway patrol investigators said they told Chaney the scope of their investigation was limited to the child sex-trafficking allegations, according to a copy of the report 5 On Your Side obtained.

Chaney said she assumed the investigation would adhere to the broad language contained in the affidavit.

“I was disappointed to know they didn’t fulfill the request of the special prosecutor,” she said in an interview Thursday. “They seemed to treat it more as a political issue and clearly they weren’t overly concerned about any criminal misconduct or they would have done more to investigate.”

Chaney told Missouri Highway Patrol investigators she believed her ex-husband, his girlfriend and a man named Roman Buddemeyer were conspiring against her and posting numerous allegations about her online, according to the report.

Investigators tried to meet with Buddemeyer, who was married to a woman Chaney once prosecuted. He initially agreed, but failed to show up for an in-person meeting. When asked why he did not meet with them, he told them his attorney, Joel Schwartz, advised him not to meet with them, according to the report.

Schwartz represented Russ Faria and successfully got his conviction for his wife’s murder overturned.

Without witness cooperation, the investigation ended without any proof of wrongdoing, according to the report.

“The special prosecutor requested on several occasions that they obtain the IP addresses of the computers where the allegations had been made that I was committing these crimes and they didn’t do it, and by the time it was said and done, I was already out of office so we figured it was kind of moot at that point, the damage had already been done to my reputation and it wasn’t going to preserve my position,” Chaney said.

Chaney lost her election in 2018 to Mike Wood, who attributes his victory at the polls to his pledge to reopen the Betsy Faria murder case.

RELATED: 'I was appalled by everything she had to say': Russ Faria reacts to prosecutor's statements about him

In July, Wood announced he was charging Pam Hupp with the murder of Betsy Faria and pledged to investigate whether Chaney’s handling of the case involved any criminal misconduct. At the press conference, he said three witnesses told his investigators Chaney told them to lie on the stand during Russ Faria’s trial – a claim Chaney denied in her interview with us.

Wood contacted McCulloch following Chaney’s interview to ask about the investigation McCulloch oversaw, and learned it did not include any allegations involving her handling of the Faria case.

“Obviously if there had been an investigation it would have been part of ours, but now we now know it didn’t exist,” he said.

Even though that investigation didn’t dive into her handling of the Faria case, Chaney believes Wood’s investigation will clear her name.

“There is no question in my mind,” she said. “Truly, the only thing I worry about at all is there are people who have political agendas, and, because of those agendas, they lose sight of what we’re supposed to do when we’re seeking justice.

“My goal has always been to get justice for Betsy Faria and I have always been eager and willing to help that happen. I would be happy to do anything they need me to do. I know the case, I’ve lived it since 2011 and for me, that is damn near 25% of my life has been spent with that case on my mind and in my heart.”

RELATED: Pam Hupp makes first appearance in Betsy Faria murder charge