Though she was denounced for inappropriate conduct and blamed for a mass exodus of employees, Beth Vesco-Mock is walking away from the wreckage of her brief tenure as a St. Louis County official with a $150,000 settlement.
Fired in March, Vesco-Mock first arrived in St. Louis as the county's director of animal care and control in September 2017, leaving behind a trail of controversy
at her previous job as director of an animal shelter in Doña Ana County, New Mexico.
Vesco-Mock's time in St. Louis County traced a curious trajectory: She earned early praise from County Executive Steve Stenger, who credited her leadership for the "culture shift" that lowered euthanasia rates at the county's adoption center. But she soon engendered serious controversy — and became a target of Stenger's ire.
"We cannot tolerate inappropriate conduct or activities," Stenger said in March while announcing Vesco-Mock's termination
. The action followed an RFT
story about her past, as well as an investigation into complaints that allegedly caused more than a dozen volunteers to quit. Critics noted that Vesco-Mock was not a licensed veterinarian, and former employees characterized her as a bully to humans and a hazard to the animals under her care.
The allegations went further than simple workplace tension. During a county council meeting in February, Vesco-Mock was asked by a council member whether she had called black people "gangbangers" whether it was true that she had stated a preference for "crackers." Under guidance of her lawyer, Vesco-Mock refused to answer.
However, Vesco-Mock fought back, and subsequently filed a complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission alleging that she was the victim of sex discrimination. In November, the county agreed to pay Vesco-Mock $150,000 — with terms revealed for the first time this weekend in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Through her lawyer, Edwin C. Ernst, Vesco-Mock has also pushed back on allegations framing her as a racist. In an interview with the Post-Dispatch
, Ernst insisted his client wouldn't have been fired had she been a man, and contended that she had never addressed anyone as a "gangbanger." Rather, Ernst said that Vesco-Mock had merely told a group of employees to stop wasting time "gangbanging" in a hallway and get back to work.
The county's settlement with Vesco-Mock marks the second time she's turned allegations of misconduct into a payday. As RFT reported last year
, Vesco-Mock had faced misdemeanor charges in New Mexico in connection to allegations that she had refused to release a dog's microchip information to a county animal control officer.
However, those charges were dropped mid-trial in 2015, and Vesco-Mock turned the tables on her accusers: She sued the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office for "malicious abuse of process and defamation of character." Eventually she accepted a settlement of $90,000.
Now, Vesco-Mock is leaving another employer with a trail of controversy and a hefty check — and even a job recommendation.
Indeed, according to the terms of the settlement
, if a prospective employer inquires about Vesco-Mock, St. Louis County officials can respond only with a pre-approved reference letter that praises Vesco-Mock for her "many years of animal welfare experience." The letter, which omits any mention of her termination, also notes Vesco-Mock helped the county shelter achieve "no kill" status and "robust community education."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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