CLAYTON, Mo. — St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell is looking to get some new wheels for himself and his senior staff.
Right now, there are five county-owned and taxpayer-funded vehicles that are assigned to Bell's office.
But according to a spokeswoman, two of the five vehicles need to be cycled out of service because of high mileage and routine wear-and-tear.
"Given the length of time necessary for budget requests to be considered by St. Louis County, the prosecutor's office reviewed its existing vehicle fleet and determined that two vehicles should be replaced during the next year," she said in a prepared e-mail sent to 5 On Your Side.
Earlier this month, Bell submitted a capital budget equipment request to the county's transportation department totaling $65,000.
According to the request that was obtained by 5 On Your Side, Bell wants a 2020 black seven-passenger Chevrolet Tahoe with an internal light array similar to what you might have seen before on law enforcement vehicles.
The spokeswoman said Bell specifically sought a replacement vehicle that had the same features, including the light array, and was the same model as the vehicle that's currently assigned to St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page.
"The prosecutor is the only elected county official who is frequently at crime scenes. Under the advisement of law enforcement, and for safety reasons, the internal light array would be used in certain crowd situations at crime scenes," she said.
A spokesman for Page said the Tahoe assigned to the executive's office is on loan from county police and is driven by one of two officers assigned to his protective detail. The spokesman added that Page's SUV has an internal light array for emergency situations only and is used very rarely.
Bell's budget request also reveals he wants a 2020 black Dodge Durango to replace the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid that's currently assigned to Clay Farmer.
Farmer serves as Bell's community engagement investigator but is also listed as "security detail" for Bell personally and for other staff members on multiple travel records obtained by 5 On Your Side.
According to the spokeswoman for Bell, the earliest estimated date of approval for the replacement vehicles would be in late January 2020.
She said the five cars assigned to the prosecuting attorney's office are all driven by police officers who Bell employs as investigators and by Bell himself who serves as the county's chief law enforcement officer.
"The budget expense estimated for the replacement of two vehicles is almost identical to requests made by the previous administration and in line with County vehicle procurement standards," she said.
County transportation officials told 5 On Your Side whenever a department wants to get new vehicles, has sufficient funds in their budget and the desired vehicles are available within that department's price range, fleet personnel will purchase the desired vehicles.
5 On Your Side asked Bell's spokeswoman if they have the money available to purchase the two new cars at the same time all county departments are being asked to propose cutting up to 5% from their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.
She said, "In consideration to the ongoing budget process currently underway within St. Louis County government, it is premature to discuss additional budget issues."
So just how much are these vehicles being used and where are they going?
5 On Your Side crunched the numbers using mileage reports Bell and his staff submitted to county transportation officials.
Bell is currently assigned a 2016 red Chevrolet Tahoe that was obtained by the previous administration in August 2015.
At the time Bell took office on January 1, 2019, the SUV had logged 52,165 miles. As of August 30, it now has 60,933 miles on it.
That means in the more than 240 days Bell has been in office, the 2016 red Tahoe has been driven more than 36 miles a day on average.
By the time it's able to be replaced, Bell's spokeswoman said the older Tahoe will have accumulated around 70,000 total miles on the odometer and will be more than four years old.
On January 1, the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid that's currently assigned to Farmer had 116,474 miles on it. As of August 30, it now has 126,247 miles on it. That means it's been driven more than 40 miles a day on average.
By the time it's able to be replaced, the spokeswoman said the Fusion Hybrid will have accumulated more than 130,000 total miles on the odometer and "age appropriate" wear and tear."
As for the three other vehicles assigned to Bell's office, here's what we found:
Director of Operations Tim Swope is assigned a 2017 Ford Fusion. On January 1, it had 45,440 miles on it. As of August 30, it has 59,700 miles on it. That means it's been driven nearly 60 miles a day on average.
Chief Trial Attorney Bart Calhoun is assigned a 2015 Chevrolet Impala. On January 1, it had 60,115 miles on it. As of August 30, it has 68,754 miles on it. That means it's been driven more than 35 miles a day on average.
Criminal Investigator Ron Goldstein is assigned a 2013 Chevrolet Impala. On January 1, it had 185,498 miles on it. As of August 30, mileage records show it has 114,384 miles on it. 5 On Your Side is working to find out how the vehicle ended up with negative mileage reported.
Much of the mileage accumulated on the five cars by the Bell administration appears to have happened locally. On several occasions, 5 On Your Side has documented the vehicles coming and going from various crime scenes and driving in downtown Clayton around the justice center.
However, travel records obtained by 5 On Your Side show these county-owned vehicles are not always staying in town. There are multiple instances in which Bell and his staff are taking them on work-related trips.
For instance, Bell and Farmer listed a county car as their modes of transportation for a two-night trip to Chicago in February 2019 for a regional convention of the Midwest Black Law Students Association.
That same month, at least four assistant prosecuting attorneys listed a county car as their modes of transportation for a two-night trip to Jefferson City for a prosecutor boot camp hosted by the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
In March 2019, Bell and at least four other assistant prosecuting attorneys reported taking a county car for a two-night trip to Osage Beach for a statewide training conference for Missouri prosecutors.
In May 2019, an assistant prosecuting attorney reported taking a county car to Branson for a one-night trip to a "drugged driving" course funded by the Missouri Division of Highway Safety and Traffic.
This isn't the first time 5 On Your Side has reported on Bell and his use of this taxpayer-funded vehicle.
In July, the I-Team revealed he wasn't parking in the space provided to him inside a parking garage reserved exclusively for county employees. It marked a change from the parking practices of the previous administration.
Instead, Bell was parking the red Tahoe wherever he wanted on the streets around the justice center. As a result, Clayton Police ticketed him for blocking fire hydrants, parking in no parking zones and not feeding the meter.
In all, he racked up more than $500 in tickets that initially the office was going to challenge in municipal traffic court.
Chief of Staff Sam Alton said at the time that it was "too tedious" for staff to park in the garage because of how often they're coming and going.
However, a few weeks after 5 On Your Side's initial report on the tickets, Bell paid his parking debt in full using what his spokeswoman said was his own money.
Bell's office continues its push to secure up to four new parking spaces in the surface lot directly across from the justice center, which could potentially mean fewer spaces for the public and less revenue for the county and the City of Clayton.
Page's spokesman said the county alone would lose about $1,000 a year per space if Bell gets his way. The matter remains unsettled between the St. Louis County Port Authority and Bell's office.
5 On Your Side has requested documentation from the county to try and find out how often or how little Bell and his senior staff are using their assigned parking spaces in the garage, but so far has been denied access to that information.