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Prosecutor faces looming deadline to charge Greitens for charity donor list

The Carnahan Courthouse is one of two courthouses in the 22nd Judicial Circuit, which is the city of St. Louis
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Prosecutors in St. Louis have to decide soon whether to charge Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens with a crime for allegedly misusing a donor list from his charity during the 2016 campaign.

Prosecutors in St. Louis have to decide soon whether to charge Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens for allegedly misusing a charity donor list during his campaign.

The statute of limitations on the possible charges expires on Sunday, though because the court is closed for the weekend, the deadline to file would be extended to Monday.

Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Wednesday that he had given evidence of a crime to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who said she was reviewing the information.

Gardner has two options she can use to charge Greitens, said Washington University law professor Peter Joy. She could ask a grand jury to issue an indictment, which generally means a bit less scrutiny of the evidence. Or, she could file a criminal complaint, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations but setting up a preliminary hearing, which offers the defense a chance to scrutinize evidence.

John Ammann, the supervisor of the civil litigation clinic at Saint Louis University, said there was plenty of time for Gardner to make a decision.

“The document they would file would be one paragraph,” he said. Some of the attorneys in Gardner’s office, he added, could file the necessary paperwork in “30 minutes with their eyes closed.”

Joy agreed with Ammann that either process could be completed in time, but said, “it’s kind of under the gun.

“It does put a lot of pressure on the circuit attorney’s office to make a call on is this a case they believe is worth pursuing.”

Gardner is already under scrutiny for how she has handled the current criminal case against Greitens. He is accused of taking a semi-nude photo without the consent of the woman with whom he had an affair, and then making it accessible by a computer. A judge is expected to decide Thursday if that case will continue.

Also complicating the process, Joy said, are questions about the amount of evidence Hawley provided.

“If it’s a whole lot of evidence, have they organized it in a way to help the decision makers in the circuit attorney’s office, and if it’s a thin amount of evidence, are there still a lot of things that need to be done for a proper investigation?” he said.

Hawley announced in March that he was investigating how Greitens used the charity, The Mission Continues, in connection with the campaign. The Associated Press first reported in 2016 that donors to the charity, which helps military veterans returning from war, were among the biggest supporters of Greitens early in the campaign.

Greitens admitted to state campaign finance violations in April 2017, and paid a $100 fine for not disclosing a gift — in this case, the fundraising list — with a value of more than $100.

The governor on Wednesday blasted the allegations as “ridiculous” and “false.” An attorney for Greitens called the announcement of possible wrongdoing “a completely frivolous and inappropriate press conference on a non-issue.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.