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Missouri House Votes To Censure St. Louis Rep. Wiley Price, Effort To Expel Fails

State Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis
Tim Bommel I House Communications
A House committee accused state Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, of having sex with an intern and then trying to get his now-former legislative assistant to cover up the encounter.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 13 with House action

For the first time in more than a century, the Missouri House overwhelmingly agreed to censure one of its representatives on Wednesday.

A bipartisan ethics report released last month accused St. Louis Democrat Wiley Price of having sex with an intern and trying to get his now-former legislative assistant to cover up the encounter.

Price denied all allegations, but on the House floor Wednesday he admitted to initially lying to investigators about having the intern’s phone number. He said he did this because in the current political climate, he'd be unlikely to be given the benefit of the doubt.

“Even more specific to me, when a white woman brings forth accusations of a Black man’s sexual improprieties, historically it doesn’t work in my favor,” Price said. “Just the smoke of such allegations have cost lives. Having this historical understanding of the allegations brought against me, I panicked and denied my dealings or actions in regards to this situation. I wanted nothing to do with it, and for that I was wrong.”

Price claimed there were discrepancies in the report and details omitted. He apologized to his “friends and colleagues for even putting us in this position.” He accepted the censure.

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, said censure was not a harsh enough punishment for the allegations included in the ethics report. He said that would be a “slap on the wrist” and offered an amendment to expel Price.

“In any other realm, any other environment, a person would be immediately terminated,” Taylor said. “But because the perpetrator is a prestigious member of the Missouri House of Representatives, you’re going to let him get away with this and not expel him. You’ll be giving him the opportunity to do this again, and again, and again.”

After close to two hours of debate, Taylor withdrew the amendment for expulsion when it did not receive enough support to pass with the Ethics Committee’s report.

In addition to censure, Price must pay all costs associated with the investigation, and he's been removed from committee assignments. He will not be allowed to supervise any interns and will be unable to hold any leadership positions.

Original story from Dec. 16, 2020:

A Missouri House committee is recommending that St. Louis Democrat Wiley Price be censured and stripped of his committee assignments after an investigation determined he had sex with an intern.

The House Ethics Committee released a report on Wednesday unanimously recommending that Price face discipline. Among other things, the report accuses Price of misleading committee members about having sex with an intern in January — and coercing his legislative assistant to cover up the situation.

Committee members also say that Price “intimidated and threatened” his legislative assistant “in retaliation for performing her duties as a mandated reporter.”

Price told St. Louis Public Radio he is not resigning and is appealing the committee’s findings.

The intern, who was assigned to a representative not related to the complaint against Price, denied having any sexual or romantic relationship with Price to an investigator. She did not testify before the committee.

Price also denied they had any sexual relationship to an investigator and the committee.

Besides being censured, the committee is suggesting that Price be stripped of his committee assignments and be required to pay more than $22,000 related to the investigation of the complaint. It also recommends that Price not be allowed to have an intern work for him or hold a leadership position.

Among other things, the report contains testimony from Price’s former legislative assistant. She told committee members that Price told her that he did have sex with the intern and went on to say that Price “told me that he had contacted [the intern] and that he had told her to delete his phone number, delete their text messages, and that she wasn’t supposed to contact him anymore.”

Price’s former legislative assistant also said that if she “didn’t back his play or back his idea that I was going to lose my job.” She told the committee that Price told her “where I come from, people die for doing s--- like this,” referring to her revealing the contents of her conversation with Price as a mandated reporter.

The report says that after Price initially denied calling or texting the intern, the committee received phone records showing they did communicate over the phone and via text messages.

“After being shown an excerpt of the phone records the committee acquired by subpoena, [Price] then claimed he communicated with the intern to see if [his legislative assistant] made it home safely from a party the three of them had attended on the night in question,” the report states. “[Price] claimed that the part of the investigator’s report that he stated he did not have the intern’s cell phone number was false.”

The report goes on to say that Price told the committee that a week before the alleged sexual encounter is said to have occurred, he had given notice to his legislative assistant he was firing her within 30 days.

Price then said his legislative assistant fabricated a story of a sexual relationship with the intern as retaliation. He said he was planning to hire a friend from his district to replace his former assistant but couldn’t recall the name “and did not mention him to House administration when they separated” Price from his former assistant, according to the report.

A statement released by members of House Republican leadership, including Speaker Elijah Haahr of Springfield and Rob Vescovo of Jefferson County, said that “we appreciate the fair and thorough investigation conducted by the members of our bipartisan House Ethics Committee, and stand by the findings included in their report.”

“The committee worked diligently using the process put in place under House Speaker Todd Richardson that was designed to prevent and resolve inappropriate behavior and improve the culture in the Capitol,” the statement said.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said in a statement that “now that the House Ethics Committee investigation is complete, the next step will be for the full House to evaluate the evidence and determine the appropriate action.”

“We expect that process to be conducted in a swift and fair manner when the legislature reconvenes in January,” Quade said.

Price was first elected to represent Missouri’s 84th House District in 2018, winning a competitive Democratic primary before easily winning the general election. He did not have an opponent in either the primary or general election this year.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.