Jetton, center of federal corruption probe, speaks to grand jury
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Jetton, center of federal corruption probe, speaks to grand jury

Date: March 10, 2010
By: Michael Bushnell
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 32

KANSAS CITY - Two years ago, Rod Jetton held one of the most powerful jobs in state government as speaker of the Missouri House. Now, unemployed and at the center of a federal corruption investigation, he had his day to attempt staving off charges that could land him in prison.

Jetton, R-Marble Hill, told reporters outside the Charles Evans Whitaker Federal Courthouse that he spoke with investigators and grand jurors for around an hour on Wednesday.

The former House speaker confirmed he was the focus of an investigation into bribery and conspiracy charges and denied any wrongdoing. The FBI is looking into whether Jetton got an illegal kickback from strip club owners in exchange for killing a 2005 bill that would have placed major restrictions on the adult industry.

Jetton, 42, said he knew nothing of a $35,000 donation from the adult entertainment industry to a campaign committee he was affiliated with until a year later when the FBI asked him about it. He said he opposed the restrictions philosophically and had a personal dislike for the bill's sponsor but never sought to profit from it.

"I didn't ask for any donations. I didn't want any donations. I wasn't aware of any donation being made," Jetton said. "Never did I say to anyone, I'll do this if you give us a donation."

Jetton acknowledged investigators must have some reason to be targeting him but said he was confused as to how he found himself at the center of a federal probe.

"I don't feel I have anything to hide, and I don't understand why it's all going on," he said. "I didn't ever expect to be here."

Among other provisions, the 2005 bill, sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, would have outlawed full nudity, lap dances and tipping in strip clubs. The bill would have also imposed a 10 p.m. closing time on all adult-industry businesses.

Bartle's bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly in March 2005 but never made it to a vote on the House floor, in part because it languished in the House Local Government Committee, chaired by a representative who opposed the legislation.

Four days before Jetton assigned the bill to the Local Government Committee -- chaired by social moderate Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit -- a $35,000 donation from strip club owners was received by a campaign committee affiliated with Jetton and former House General Counsel Don Lograsso.

Jetton emphasized that Johnson's committee, which Bartle last month called "unfriendly," was the appropriate destination for the bill. He said similar legislation has been sent there during both his tenure and that of his successor, Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

"Johnson's committee was the logical committee for (the bill). He was a good chairman," Jetton said. "This committee has been dealing with these kinds of bill under three different chairmen and two speakers. There's nothing abnormal here."

Earlier in the day, Jetton was arraigned on a felony assault charge in Benton, a six-hour drive from Kansas City.

The assault charge stems from a separate issue concerning a Sikeston woman who claims she blacked out after a night of drinking wine with Jetton, and when she came to, the former speaker was having sex with her and beating her face. Through his attorney, Jetton pleaded not guilty and asked for a change of venue; he did not have to appear in court.

Leaving the Capitol at age 40 and having already served four years as the leader of the state House, Jetton's resume could have made him a perfect candidate for a future statewide-office run. Instead, he said he is jobless and living in Cape Girardeau.

Jetton added that he traveled to Kansas City without an attorney, partially because he said he has nothing to hide and not enough money to pay for one.

"I can't hire an attorney," Jetton said. "This stuff is expensive."

Jetton's probe is part of what critics have called a "pay-to-play" system in Jefferson City, a system where legislators are paid by lobbyists and large industries to vote a certain way on an issue. Jetton said no such thing happened while he was in office.

"There's none of that stuff. People don't do that," Jetton said, referring the suggestion that some representatives have taken bribes. "They go up there and vote the way they believe."

Jetton said he doesn't know when he might hear whether he has been either indicted and the grand jury hasn't yet been given another date to reconvene.

He said he wasn't worried about his very uncertain future and he is happier now than when he was speaker.

"You can't get worried about it, that's not going to help," Jetton said of his legal troubles. "I wish I wasn't here. I wish it wasn't all happening, but if things don't turn out my way, I'll just keep getting up and going on."