Probes to look at raids
Two special prosecutors named
Not one but two special prosecutors have been appointed to investigate the Aug. 11 raid on the Marion County Record and the homes of its owners and Marion’s vice mayor, the Record learned Friday.
At the request of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, special agents John Zamora and Michael Struwe of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation spent most of the week in Marion, interviewing people involved with or affected by the raids.
Nearly all those interviewed stressed that the newspaper was not the target of the investigation.
According to a coroner’s report, stress of the raids contributed the next day to the death of Record editor Eric Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan.
“We’re neutral — hopefully, about as neutral as you can be,” Struwe told Eric Meyer during an interview Friday. “We don’t know you. We don’t know the town. We don’t know the players.
“We know there was a mess, and somebody needs to sort out, from A to Z, what happened, who knew what when, and what they did with that information.”
Their report will be sent to special prosecutor Barry Wilkerson, county attorney of Riley County.
The other special prosecutor is rumored to be Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe.
“My understanding,” Struwe said, “is that there’s a special prosecutor there who will be trying to look at the access of Kari Newell’s information on KDOR.”
That’s the Kansas Department of Revenue website that contained records about Newell’s driver’s license being suspended after she had failed to complete a diversion agreement in a drunken driving case more than a decade ago.
The first special prosecutor’s mission, Struwe said, will be to determine whether obtaining her driver’s license number and birth date, necessary for accessing the records, “amounts to a crime.”
In interviews, Kari’s estranged husband, Ryan, has admitted using her birthdate and license number to obtain a document that stated she could reinstate her license under certain conditions, including installation of an anti-drinking ignition interlock.
Ryan Newell provided a copy of that document to friend Pam Maag, who in separate Facebook direct messages sent pictures of it to Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel and to Record reporter Phyllis Zorn.
Two days later, after having trouble attempting to verify that the record was legitimate, Zorn followed instructions from Kansas Department of Revenue officials on how to view it on a free website available to the general public.
The Record subsequently decided not to report about the document, which it considered to be nothing more than an attempt by Ryan Newell to use Kari Newell’s lack of a valid license to obtain ownership of all the couple’s vehicles in a pending divorce case.
A key question being examined in that part of the investigation, Struwe indicated, is whether availability of the report online was attributable to what some have regarded as a “loophole” in the Department of Revenue’s privacy protections.
That, however, is not the area of case that he and Zamora were investigating this week.
“Some of those facts — a lot of those facts, the mechanics of how to go through that website, who did that, who put what into that website — are material to our investigation of what was done with that info,” Struwe said.
But the second prosecutor, he said, instead will be looking at “what was the government’s response to that” — in other words, the raid on the Record and two homes.
“A separate prosecutor will seek to understand that when we are finished,” Struwe said.
Among those interviewed this week were Ryan Newell on Tuesday, Maag on Wednesday, Herbel and Kari Newell on Thursday, and Zorn and Meyer on Friday. The agents reportedly planned to head back to their home base in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Saturday.
After her interview, Kari Newell told KSHB-TV in Kansas City: “They made it clear they are not investigating the newspaper.”
Newell told KSHB that agents questioned her about her statement given to Cody before the raids and received from her several text messages sent to her cell phone by Ryan Newell, city council member Zach Collett, and Cody.
Vice Mayor Herbel told KSHB that the agents told her they “didn’t understand why (Cody) would charge me.”
“I got the impression that they think (Cody’s investigation) was the dumbest thing that’s happened,” she said.
In his interview with Meyer, Stuwe explained:
“There is some friction between the newspaper and the local government; it sounds like every other town I’m aware of. There was additional friction introduced when Cody was named chief.”
That friction related to sources telling the Record that Cody faced demotion and discipline in his former position as a Kansas City police captain. After taking office, Cody also ceased providing to the newspaper what Struwe termed, based on his experience in other communities, routine “police blotter” type information.
Among the points they seemed most interested in was that the only printout of the document that Maag originally had supplied Zorn was left sitting in plain view on a Record desk and not seized during the raid.
The agents asked Meyer whether he had had any contact with KBI. He replied that he had not.