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Was There a Plot to Discredit Former Missouri Sheriff Investigating Corruption?

by Douglas Ankney

Jeff Burkett resigned as Sheriff of Missouri’s Iron County on January 31, 2024, saying if he stayed to defend a civil suit filed to remove him from office, his testimony might undermine his defense to pending criminal charges.

As PLN reported, the now-former Sheriff was arrested in March 2023, along with two deputies and wealthy Iron County rancher Donald Gaston, on charges they stalked and kidnapped Gaston’s ex-girlfriend to retrieve the former couple’s five-year-old daughter, of whom Gaston had custody. [See: PLN, Apr. 27, 2023, online.]

But Burkett calls the charges politically motivated, filed in retaliation for his investigation into a whistle-blower’s claims that Iron County Economic Partnership (ICEP) board members drained $3 million from a 2005 disaster-relief fund for their own benefit. Those claims of self-dealing surfaced in 2015 from Erich Jett, a consultant ICEP hired.

“The attorney general’s office does not have an interest” in the case, he said, and “the IRS in the past has not had an interest in it. So we have to go beyond that and take action on our own.” Burkett, according to Jett, was the only official “taking it seriously.”

At the time of the shady transactions, local attorney Brian Parker was the board’s advisor. He is now the prosecuting attorney for Iron County. Burkett’s lawyer, Gabe Crocker, revealed that Burkett had initiated preliminary investigations into possible criminal wrongdoing by “several Iron County elected officials” and turned Jett’s files over to the FBI.

But then he was arrested, after charges were filed by the prosecutor in neighboring Washington County, John Jones. The Iron County Jail was shuttered and its detainees transferred to Washington County’s lockup, where Burkett was jailed on a $500,000 bond. State Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) filed a civil petition to remove him from office, boasting after his resignation that Burkett “knew we were going to win at trial.”

“As the Missouri Attorney General takes a pathetic victory lap today,” Crocker responded, “I would take note that Andrew Bailey also forced a fellow Republican out of office today without hearing any evidence in a criminal court.”  


Sources: KFVS, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Radio

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