ST. LOUIS — An audit, that was supposed to take less than a year to complete, will likely end up taking three times as long for the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, according to Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick.
The review is part of an overall city-wide audit that the St. Louis Board of Aldermen requested in 2018. All of the audits on the city’s various departments are complete – except the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, Fitzpatrick said.
“It has just been delay after delay after delay under former Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner,” he said, adding that Gardner’s administration hired private attorneys to object to many of the state’s requests for documents. “So for every hour, we waste arguing with the outside lawyers that Gardner had hired about what documents to produce for us, that is money that is getting billed to the city and the city taxpayers are footing that bill. There definitely has been a lot of obstruction.”
Gardner resigned in June, and Fitzpatrick said her replacement, gubernatorial appointee Gabe Gore, has opened the office’s doors and books to the auditor’s office.
“It’s a dynamic shift in terms of the productivity of the audit, and the amount of information we're able to access to help get to the bottom of what was going on in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, and why it was being so poorly managed,” he said.
Gardner resigned two weeks earlier than she planned to amid growing scrutiny and criticism her administration was facing for thousands of backlogged cases, missed court appearances and Gardner’s own participation in a nursing school program while in office.
The day she resigned was an important date in the progression of the audit, Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said he was planning to take her to court to force her to fully comply with the subpoenas.
“She knew that was the deadline, and ended up resigning on that day, so we didn't end up going to court to enforce the subpoena,” he said.
The auditor’s office does not typically have to file subpoenas to obtain information from the entities it reviews. And when Gardner’s office would answer those subpoenas, the information was incomplete, Fitzpatrick said.
“One example that I can share is a credit card statement where they purchased an airline ticket for somebody whose name was redacted out as well as the location they were traveling to redacted out,” he said. “To determine if that is appropriate usage of the office funds, we would need to know who was traveling."
"Where were they traveling? What were they traveling for? Was it one of the attorneys in the office traveling to a conference of prosecuting attorneys? Or was it Gardner going to Washington, D.C. for a political event? That is an important distinction that can only be determined if we can see who is traveling,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said his staff has been on location at the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office for the past 30 days.
He said his staff is reviewing bank accounts to ensure there isn’t any missing money, Sunshine requests to ensure the law was followed and a review of the office’s policies to determine whether they were followed.
“We’re going to be asking things like, ‘What was the caseload like for the attorneys?’” Fitzpatrick said.
If auditors find evidence of any criminal activity, then they will work with law enforcement. If they find management-related issues, then auditors will make recommendations on how the office can improve.
“We will put that information in the report so the voters of the city will know this is what happened,” he said. “We can't make anybody follow our advice, but we can advise the citizens, and they have the ultimate power to decide who's going to run their government.”
Fitzpatrick said he expects to release the report sometime next spring or summer – about two years after it should have been done.