ACLU sues to get FBI audit of St. Louis County official's embezzlement

2014-07-16T23:15:00Z 2014-10-24T14:25:12Z ACLU sues to get FBI audit of St. Louis County official's embezzlementBy Steve Giegerich sgiegerich@post-dispatch.com 314-725-6758 stltoday.com

CLAYTON • The ACLU filed a lawsuit Wednesday demanding that St. Louis County turn over a forensic audit detailing the financial specifics in a $3.4 million embezzlement case.

“It is unfortunate that it is necessary for the ACLU to ask the court to take action against St. Louis County for violating the Sunshine Law again,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman. “But the need for transparency is too important to ignore.”

In a case filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, the ACLU is asking a judge to order the release of an FBI report that shows how the fraud by health department official Edward Mueth unfolded.

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The audit, completed in January, also documents the goods and services purchased by Mueth prior to his suicide last September.

“Several people complained that St. Louis County violated” Missouri statutes governing the release of public records, said Tony Rothert, legal director for the Missouri ACLU. “It took five minutes of legal research to show that it seemed to be true.”

The county has cited FBI directives prohibiting the public release of information contained in the audit as justification in denying both the Post-Dispatch and ACLU access to the report.

Under pressure to make details of the Mueth investigation public, County Executive Charlie Dooley last week asked the U.S. Justice Department to waive its demand for confidentiality.

Richard Callahan, the U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri, declined Tuesday to authorize release of the audit.

In a letter to Dooley, Callahan said the Mueth report was protected by “federal law, specifically the Freedom of Information Act.”

The ACLU however sided with County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch who argued last week that Missouri’s Sunshine Law trumped the federal statute when the document moved from law enforcement into the hands of appointed county officials.

“The federal law is irrelevant now that it is a record of St. Louis County,” Rothert said Wednesday.

St. Louis County administration officials received the audit in January from the FBI. The county had asked for the report to assist the effort to recover some or all of its losses through proceeds from the Mueth estate.

Responsible for purchasing technological equipment and goods for the health department, Mueth killed himself a block from his $1.5 million Webster Groves home as the scheme unraveled last September.

General assignment reporter Steve Giegerich covers St. Louis County. On Twitter @stevegiegerich

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