Jackson mayor subject of probe

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Jackson's mayor, Paul Sander, is the subject of an investigation that began last April after years of allegations that he used his political office to benefit his business dealings.

Sander, who has been Jackson mayor since 1993, is a real estate agent for Heartland Realty. Investigators for the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department and the Missouri attorney general's office have been looking into specific transactions in which Sander was either the seller or the agent.

Subpoenas were issued to three real estate brokers last week. The subpoenas, signed Aug. 13 by Circuit Judge Gary Kamp, were issued to Martha Hamilton of Coldwell Banker-Hamilton Realty, Doris Jean Arnold of Century 21 Ashland Realty and Gerald McElrath, former owner of Heartland Realty.

On Monday, Sander referred all questions about the investigation to his attorney, Al Spradling III, who is the former mayor of Cape Girardeau. Attempts to reach Spradling were unsuccessful.

City cooperating

Tom Ludwig, Jackson's city attorney, said Monday that the city is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation.

"I felt like this should have come out long ago," Ludwig said. He said the rumors have persisted for so long -- since the late 1990s -- that they may have harmed the reputations of the individuals involved. He said making the investigation public was "a good thing."

The chief of detectives for the sheriff's department, Lt. David James, said his department began an investigation after receiving complaints about Sander last January. He said the investigation was delayed until after the municipal elections in April. He said the department didn't want to the probe to be perceived as politically motivated.

Cape Girardeau County's prosecuting attorney, Morley Swingle, removed himself from the investigation. A special prosecutor, Robert L. Sanders, was appointed. Sanders is an assistant attorney general from Jefferson City. He requested the three subpoenas.

The records requested by the subpoenas concern sales of Jackson homes at 134 Ora Lee Drive in the Seabaugh Acres Subdivision and at 756 Pecan Lane. The subpoenas seek copies of contracts, mortgage inspection reports, loan papers, sales and commission documents, records showing the split in percentages paid to the agency and agents and copies of any checks issued as commissions.

According to the subpoenas, Sander was the agent listing for the Ora Lee Drive property, which sold for $109,500 on May 1, 1998, and was the seller of the Pecan Lane property, which was listed for $115,900 and also sold the same day.

McElrath, the former Heartland Realty owner, said he didn't know what investigators were looking for, but he said he provided the documents without delay.

Hamilton, from Coldwell Banker-Hamilton Realty, said, "All I know is when they issued the subpoena, they said the problem was not on our side of the transaction."

Attempts to reach Arnold, from Remax Realty, Monday evening were unsuccessful.

"The investigative subpoenas are a tool to help us gather documents and records not normally available to the public," James said. "The city of Jackson has been cooperative with providing the open records we've requested."

More subpoenas likely

James also said more investigative subpoenas are likely to be issued.

The investigation was launched to determine whether anyone profited from the home sales illegally, he said.

"Obviously, there's allegations the mayor used his position to benefit himself," he said. "But just because someone made allegations that the mayor or someone else did something wrong, those are only allegations, and a person or persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

After James began asking the city administration for records, city attorney Ludwig contacted him in hopes of expediting the matter.

"On April 14, I wrote David James and told him the doors and windows of City Hall are open to him and we would cooperate with the investigation," Ludwig said. "In any kind of inquiry, we're more than happy to give anybody anything they want. I encouraged him to get whatever he needed and to conclude his investigation."

Ludwig said many of the rumors were started by people with motivations he didn't want to speculate on. But he said he believes the rumors should have been openly addressed long ago.

"As far as the city goes, we have nothing to hide," he said. "At this point, we're very proud of our administration and very proud of what they've done and are sure the record will stand. I think it's tough to be in public service, and it's this kind of thing that drives good people out of public service."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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