In a series of decisions she herself called "indefensible" and motivated by "greed and selfishness," former St. Louis alderman Kacie Starr Triplett admitted in February to using a campaign fund as her personal ATM, paying for everything from spa outings to her gas bill and withdrawing thousands in cash.
But on Friday, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced that Triplett can avoid criminal charges by paying $22,000 in restitution. Though the law recognizes no victim in a case of misused campaign funds, Joyce says the money will be given to the St. Louis public school system, since "it's the community's trust that is the victim here."
However, the deal only exists because Triplett waived the statute of limitations on her own crimes, choosing to fully implicate herself in raiding her campaign's coffers.
Triplett left public office in 2012, ostensibly to help the city's homeless population from her position as a consultant with Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis. The organization broke ties with Triplett after a Missouri Ethics Commission investigation revealed she had snatched between $8,000 and $18,900 from a campaign fund.
Joyce tells Daily RFT that Triplett contacted her office some time after the report went public. That report, 52-pages in all, detailed Triplett's illicit shopping sprees and spa days, as well as a pattern of misreported campaign contributions starting in 2010.
But as evidence, the commission's report was mostly worthless.
"One of the first things we noticed was that the statute of limitations had run on many, if not most, of the the unlawful expenditures she made," Joyce says. "Much of it was unprosecutable from the get-go."
The other problem confronting prosecutors was how to prove which expenses were improper and which were used for legitimate campaign purposes: A restaurant bill, for example, could mean Triplett had attempted to woo a potential donor with a nice lunch -- a legitimate campaign expense -- or it could mean she treated herself to meal on her contributors' dime.
"We have no way of knowing the intent of that expenditure unless she would provide us with that information," Joyce explains. "And that's what she did. Absent that, we would not be able to prosecute her."
Triplett chose to waive the statute of limitations on the charges made in the commission's report, and provided the Circuit Attorney's Office with an account of which bank statements were legitimate and which were not. She literally gave prosecutors the ammunition to charge her with class A misdemeanor.
On March 6, Triplett made a deal with the Circuit Attorney's Office, agreeing to pay $22,000 in restitution in exchange for no criminal charges. Here's the check with her first payment of $3,000, sent on March 6.
Triplett also potentially faces a $100,000 fine from the Missouri Ethics Commission, though that figure drops to $10,000 if she pays within 45 days and reports all missing campaign funds within the next six months.
"This was significantly larger fine than what the commission would typically impose," says Missouri Ethics Commission executive director James Klahr. "For a case to be ultimately addressed as a potential criminal manner is fairly unusual."
Yes, a politician held criminally accountable for her actions isn't something you see every day; however, some may be wondering how stealing almost $19,000 would result in no criminal charges.
"That's not stealing, it's a misuse of campaign funds," Joyce explains. "If someone went into Walmart and stole money, they would be charged with a class C felony, Walmart would be the victim and they would be owed the restitution. That's a completely different case."
Basically, because Triplet's campaign supporters aren't seen as "victims" in the eyes of the law, Joyce must characterize Triplett's actions as a "breach of trust" instead of embezzlement.
"Here," Joyce continues, "people voluntarily gave money to a candidate and then the candidate spent that on expenditures to benefit herself instead of the campaign."