Indictment deadline nears in probe of former House speaker Rod Jetton

Thursday, March 25, 2010
Former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton walks into the Federal Court House, Wednesday, March 10, 2010 in Kansas City, Mo. Jetton came to the courthouse to testify before a grand jury investigating bribery allegations against him.(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Former Missouri House speaker Rod Jetton appears unlikely to be indicted for bribery this month for his handling of a 2005 bill regulating sexually oriented businesses.

Federal law requires an indictment within five years of when an alleged bribe occurs. The grand jury investigating Jetton's case is not scheduled to meet before the likely expiration of that deadline around April 1.

The investigation of Jetton has focused on whether a $35,000 political contribution from the adult entertainment industry was linked to Jetton's decision to send legislation regulating the industry to a committee whose chairman opposed it.

Jetton testified March 10 before a federal grand jury in Kansas City after receiving notification that he was a target of an investigation involving bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy. He denied any wrongdoing and said he never promised to take any action in exchange for money.

Jetton said Wednesday he has received no indication of whether he will be indicted.

"I trust in our judicial system and will continue to tell the truth about how the restrictions on the adult club industry were passed in 2005," Jetton said. "Whatever the grand jury decides, that is all I can do."

Jetton, 42, already faces a state felony assault charge for allegedly battering a women during a sexual encounter last fall. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.

The Marble Hill, Mo., Republican won election to the House in 2000 and served the maximum allowed by term limits before leaving in January 2009. He played a key role in the 2002 Republican takeover in Missouri and became House speaker in 2005.

Centers on 2005 bill

The federal probe stems from events involving a 2005 bill imposing new taxes and regulations on strip clubs, adult movie theaters and other sexually oriented businesses.

The bill passed the Senate on March 29, 2005. Two days later, a political action committee financed by the adult entertainment industry reported giving $35,000 to a group called the Committee for Honest Campaigns, which reported receiving the money April 1.

The Committee for Honest Campaigns typically supported Republican campaigns and had hired a Jetton adviser -- House general counsel Don Lograsso -- as its consultant.

On April 4, 2005, Jetton referred the bill regulating sexually oriented businesses to the House Local Government Committee, whose chairman opposed it. Although the bill stalled for weeks in that committee, a scaled-back version eventually was added in the Senate to a bill sponsored by Jetton and passed by the legislature May 13. It later was struck down in court for technical reasons.

Jetton acknowledged he had concerns about the bill's original version, but said he was unaware of the political contribution at the time and added that it played no role in his decisions.

Under federal law, bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy charges all require an indictment within five years of when the alleged crimes occurred. Bribery and mail fraud are more easily tied to a specific event on a certain date. When the clock starts ticking on conspiracy charges can be less certain, because an alleged plot could continue after a specific action.

The grand jury investigating Jetton had been scheduled to meet April 13. That could have been moved up to accommodate the apparent deadline for a bribery indictment. Instead, the grand jury's next session has been postponed until June 22.

Federal grand juries meet periodically over the course of a year or more and typically hear testimony on a variety of unrelated investigations.

Don Ledford, a spokesman for federal prosecutor Beth Phillips, said he could not comment about the status of any investigation of Jetton because grand jury proceedings are confidential.

Unclear cutoff

Without knowing all the facts and possible charges that U.S. attorneys are considering, it's difficult to know for certain when an indictment deadline has passed, said Frank Bowman, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia whose experience includes a stint in the U.S. attorney's office in southern Florida.

"It wouldn't be totally unfounded to at least ask the question -- given that five years has passed and there's a potential statue of limitations issue -- that this might suggest something," Bowman said. "But if you're being totally honest about it, it might mean nothing."

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