Story County attorney asked ISU police to investigate plane trip by ISU president

Pop quiz: Who is best positioned to investigate a possible violation of Iowa law by a state university president?

A. The top prosecutor in the county where the university is located

B. Officials in the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation

C. Attorneys in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office

D. A guy who reports to a guy who reports to the university president

If you picked “D,” you have something in common with Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds.

Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press today that David Wheeler, a University of Iowa alumnus who has criticized current leadership of the Iowa Board of Regents, submitted a complaint to the Story County attorney regarding Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s use of the university’s Cirrus SR22 plane on March 12, 2016. Instead of looking into the matter, “Reynolds forwarded the complaint for investigation to ISU interim police chief Aaron DeLashmutt, who reports to a Leath subordinate.”

How could any law enforcement officer be expected to investigate possible misconduct by his boss’s boss? Particularly in this case, when DeLashmutt holds the top job in Iowa State’s police department on an interim basis?

In an e-mail subsequently shared with Bleeding Heartland, Wheeler forwarded his complaint and the response from Reynolds to Assistant Iowa Attorney General Rob Sand and Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan, saying,

I believe there would be a direct conflict of interest and contrary to any semblance of a transparency and a fair investigation of this matter for the ISU Chief of Police DeLasmutt to be investigating Mr. Leath since he directly or indirectly reports to Mr. Leath. I would respectfully request you intercede and instruct the DCI investigate this matter.

The Department of Public Safety oversees the Division of Criminal Investigation.

Sand began collecting information about Leath’s use of ISU airplanes in September, soon after Foley reported on a previously undisclosed hard landing incident in July 2015. However, the assistant attorney general’s investigation

was ended within days when leaders of the Board of Regents learned about it and had the board’s lawyer contact Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office, where Sand is an assistant attorney general.

Sand’s supervisors were unaware he was looking into the matter and felt it was inappropriate because police, not prosecutors, generally conduct criminal investigations, said attorney general’s office spokesman Geoff Greenwood. In addition, the office doesn’t have jurisdiction to bring charges unless a case is referred by a county prosecutor, which hasn’t happened, he said.

The information that Sand gathered was forwarded to Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds, who said Wednesday [October 19] she didn’t see any reason to investigate further.

I’m starting to see a pattern with Reynolds.

Let’s back up a bit: why does Wheeler suspect Leath violated Iowa law when he flew ISU’s Cirrus to North Carolina on March 12?

To my knowledge, the Ditchwalk blog was first to flag that trip as a possible misuse of state property in this October 22 post:

TRIP #12 — Flight Log/Supplemental Log — 03/12/16

Ames to Jefferson, NC
Jefferson to Champagne/Urbana, IL
Champagne/Urbana to Ames, IA

1 day of flying.

[Note: although this is the third logged trip to North Carolina, this trip is unique because the entire round trip occurs in one day. In fact, the plane touches down in Jefferson at 2:04 pm EST, and departs again at 2:41 pm EST, meaning it is on the ground for just under 40 minutes. While it is entirely possible that Leath had a desperately important meeting with a critical potential donor who could only meet with him at the Jefferson, NC airport in that 37-minute window, the stop seems more consistent with dropping a passenger or passengers off and fueling up for the return flight to Iowa. (When the plane stops for fuel in Champagne/Urbana, it is on the ground longer in Illinois than it was on the ground in North Carolina.]

Leath owns a home in Jefferson, North Carolina, near where his family owns a Christmas tree farm.

Foley’s story today pointed out that March 12 was the beginning of spring break at ISU.

Wheeler’s November 5 e-mail to the Story County attorney and the Department of Public Safety commissioner noted,

I am a former Iowan that has evidence that Iowa State University President Steven Leath has violated Iowa law by using a Iowa State University owned aircraft for personal use.

On March 12, 2016, Mr. Leath used ISU Cirrus aircraft (tail number N176CF) to fly to Ashe County airport in Jefferson, NC. Mr. Leath has made public disclosures his family owns a Christmas tree farm and vacation home in Ashe County, NC. He made this trip from Ames to Jefferson, NC, all in one day and was only in Jefferson, NC, for 37 minutes.

He departed from Ames Municipal Airport at 8:05 AM Central on March 12, 2016, and arrived Ashe County Airport in Jefferson, NC, at 2:04 PM Eastern. The plane was on the ground for a sum total of 37 minutes, just long enough to drop off or pick up his wife or another family member and refuel the plane. He then departed Ashe County Airport, NC, at 2:41 PM Eastern with a 57 minute stop (likely refueling) in Champaign/Urbana, IL. Again, this flight all occurred in one day (see log below). He has not reimbursed the University for this flight (see disclosure link below).

What would justify a 37 minute meeting in Jefferson, NC, where he has a family business and home other than dropping off or picking up a family member or signing some personal papers? Or was he just logging hours on the aircraft at ISU expense? If it was a major donor meeting, it would be easy enough to confirm this by asking Mr. Leath and then confirming (on the record) with the donor. Mr. Leath has not justified this trip in any press interviews nor disclosures made by ISU or to the Iowa Board of Regents.

The ISU flight log documenting this trip is here: http://www.ur.iastate.edu/flightservice/docs/Cirrus%20Flight%20Log.pdf

Leath did not reimburse ISU for personal use based upon ISU disclosures here: http://www.ur.iastate.edu/flightservice/docs/Flight%20reimbursements.pdf

Since it would be reasonable to conclude this was a personal trip and he has not reimbursed ISU, I would respectfully request your office fully investigate this matter.

Section 721.2 of Iowa Code concerns “Nonfelonious Misconduct in Office”:

Any public officer or employee, or any person acting under color
of such office or employment, who knowingly does any of the
following, commits a serious misdemeanor: […]

Uses or permits any other person to use the property owned by
the state or any subdivision or agency of the state for any private
purpose and for personal gain, to the detriment of the state or any
subdivision thereof.

Removing this investigation from the purview of ISU’s police department seems like a no-brainer.

I will update this post when it becomes clear whether the DCI will take up Wheeler’s complaint.

UPDATE: When Gavin Aronsen asked Reynolds about the inquiry referred from the Attorney General’s office, she mentioned the Ames Police–not the university’s police–as the proper investigators of any crime that may have occurred. From Aronsen’s October 20 post at Iowa Informer:

“I looked at it. There was no evidence of a crime in it,” Reynolds told the Informer. “I told them, ‘If you have evidence of a crime, you need to call local law enforcement.’ They said, ‘Well, okay, we don’t have any evidence of a crime at this time.’”

Similar to the attorney general’s office, she said, “My role is obviously to prosecute crimes once they’ve been investigated” (the AG’s office, she added, also provides legal representation to ISU, which could cause a conflict of interest if it chose to investigate its president). If someone has evidence of a crime, she said, they need to refer it to local law enforcement, in this case Ames police, and if they decide to file charges after conducting an investigation that’s when Reynolds would take the case.

Does Reynolds know what she’s doing, or is she making things up as she goes along?

SECOND UPDATE: Reynolds explained to the Iowa Informer’s Aronsen that

the Ames Police Department would have jurisdiction over the investigation of alleged crimes taking place at the city-owned airport.

When the AP report broke Monday, critics questioned why Reynolds forwarded Wheeler’s complaint to ISU instead of Ames police because of the apparent conflict of interest with the former department. That department, she said, “will assess the complaint, determine if they are conflicted out as investigators, and if so, call in another agency of their choice. This is an agency decision that must be made and not a decision I can make for them.”

What would be the next step if ISU claims its police force can investigate Leath’s use of the airplane on March 12, and later determines Wheeler’s complaint has no merit?

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