The lawyer who got $120,000 to bring down Missouri’s GOP governor says he was told it came from a wealthy Republican
In Missouri, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens faces almost too many threats to count: A mistress accusing Greitens of sexual blackmail. An ex-husband who leaked her story to the media. A newspaper publisher who funneled cash to the ex-husband’s lawyer. A mysterious Republican financier who wants to bring down the governor and may be the source of the cash.
And don’t forget the state Legislature threatening impeachment and a St. Louis prosecutor threatening imprisonment.
Welcome to politics in the Show-Me State, where power is often wielded in secret, and often with cash.
On Friday, the Missouri state Legislature is expected to convene a special session to decide whether to remove Greitens from office over his treatment of his mistress and his handling of campaign contributions.
In 2016, the Navy SEAL turned philanthropist used millions of dollars of still-untraceable “dark money” donations to help power his way to the governorship.
In one criminal case pending in St. Louis circuit court, Greitens has been accused of stealing a list of donors from his nonpartisan charity, the Mission Continues, to solicit donations for his political campaign. He has denied criminal wrongdoing.
In the most explosive scandal, Greitens has been accused of tying up his hairdresser in 2015, stripping off her clothes, photographing her naked without her consent and threatening to release the image if she told anyone about their affair.
His attorneys argued that prosecutors in St. Louis mishandled the investigation, resulting in a criminal case being dropped Monday. Charges could be refiled by a special prosecutor.
Greitens has admitted to the affair but denies taking the photo or threatening blackmail.
The scandal only came to light because because the woman’s ex-husband (whom The Times is not naming in order to protect his ex-wife’s identity) and a St. Louis lawyer named Al Watkins gave the media private recordings of the woman talking about Greitens.
Watkins, it turns out, wasn’t just working for the ex-husband.
Shortly before other news outlets published stories about the affair in January, Watkins received a visit from Scott Faughn, publisher of the Missouri Times, a small newspaper for state political insiders — and one of the most politically connected figures in the state.
Soon after their meeting, Watkins said in an interview Wednesday, he received two deliveries: $50,000 from Faughn and another $50,000 from a man who went by the name Skylar and was possibly just the courier.
Watkins said that Faughn told him that all $100,000 had come from “an unnamed, anonymous wealthy Republican who did not like Greitens and that it was personal. That’s all I knew about the guy.”
Watkins said he immediately took a photograph of the money and sent it to the FBI before depositing it into his law firm’s trust account.
“There was no conditions to this money,” Watkins said.
After the stories about Greitens and the hairdresser went public, Watkins said he received an additional $10,000 from Faughn and $10,000 from the unknown source.
Faughn has told a different story about the money, saying it was his and that he was buying the ex-husband’s recordings for a book he’s writing about Greitens — although other journalists got the recordings for free.
“The money I used to buy the tapes was my money,” Faughn wrote in a column this month. “There is no huge conspiracy.” (He did not respond to repeated messages from The Times seeking comment.)
That story has plenty of doubters, because court records show that Faughn and his newspaper have had financial problems.
“Scott Faughn does not have $50,000 in cash,” said Jason G. Crowell, a former Republican state senator and floor leader in the Missouri House of Representatives, as well as a Greitens appointee to the state housing commission. “There’s no journalist in the state of Missouri, or anywhere else, that’s rolling with $50,000 in cash.”
In one 2016 lawsuit, a Jefferson City printing company sued Faughn’s newspaper for failing to pay its modest printing bills over several months.
Two state agencies have repeatedly issued liens and fines against the Missouri Times seeking more than $15,000 for unpaid payroll taxes between 2014 and 2016.
And in 2015, Capitol One bank garnished Faughn’s wages after spending five years trying to collect a debt that ballooned from $846.56 to more than $2,000 due to unpaid interest.
Faughn was sued again in November, by a St. Louis debt-collection firm, for $1,245 in unpaid rent and fees from 2008.
The Times was unable to find any evidence that Faughn owns a house or any other property that he could have borrowed against for cash. In several court cases over the last decade, the addresses listed for him were houses owned by relatives.
Faughn’s upcoming book about Greitens, “While Missouri Slept,” appears to be self-published, so he probably didn’t get a cash advance from a publisher.
In a testy interview, KMOX radio host Mark Reardon put Faughn, a longtime guest of the show, on the spot: “Can you prove that this money was yours?”
Faughn paused, then stammered: “I don’t know how you — I mean — I’m not quite sure what you want to prove. I’m not gonna — I’m not sure what you’re asking.”
Greitens’ attorneys would love to grill Faughn about the source of the money. But they haven’t been able to find him, and with the criminal case in St. Louis now dropped, they have also lost the power to depose him under oath.
“He appears to be on the run, because we’ve tried multiple times to locate him at the normal stomping grounds for Scott Faughn and have been unsuccessful,” said Jim Martin, one of Greitens’ attorneys.
Enter the conspiracy theories.
Greitens’ defenders quickly pointed a finger at a powerful special-interest group that would profit from the governor’s downfall: housing developers.
Last year, Greitens led an effort that ended the state’s lucrative tax credit for building low-income housing. The program had brought millions in profits to developers, who use the credits to finance their projects, but the governor argued it was inefficient.
After his intentions for the tax credit became clear, a handful of developers began donating money to political-action committees to prepare for the next election cycle — presumably to support candidates who will support the tax credit.
“Make no mistake: The governor has many enemies — most of his own making — and they are celebrating his demise,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger wrote in a recent opinion piece about housing developers’ influence in Missouri politics.
The developers would benefit greatly if Greitens were removed from office and his replacement restarted the program.
Next in line for the governorship is Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, who supports the tax credits. Parson’s office declined an interview request.
Faughn himself has been an advocate for the tax credit as “one of the economic development successes in the state,” and Sterling Bank of Poplar Bluff, Mo., a former sponsor of a weekly television talk show that Faughn hosts, specializes in financing projects involving low-income housing tax credits.
A spokeswoman for the bank did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the bank’s lobbyist, former state House Speaker Steve Tilley, who has co-hosted lobbyist parties for lawmakers at Faughn’s offices and has appeared on the show.
Faughn’s involvement in Greitens’ downfall has a somewhat ironic twist, given his own history.
In 2002, before he became a newspaper publisher, Faughn was the 22-year-old mayor of Poplar Bluff, his hometown. But his political career quickly came to an end after he was convicted of forging checks related to a highway expansion project.
Faughn didn’t serve prison time. Like Greitens, he maintained that he was innocent — the victim of powerful, shadowy forces working against an upstart trying to shake up the status quo.
“In my community,” Faughn said to a TV station after his conviction in 2007, “if you’re rich enough, if you’re a powerful enough attorney, and a powerful enough newspaper publisher, and corrupt enough, you can take out just about anybody.”
Matt Pearce is a national reporter for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @mattdpearce.
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