Following 41 Action News investigation, Northland politician faces charges for land deal

UPDATE | Taxpayers didn’t hold back on Feb. 20, 2012 in Platte County. They wanted to be heard by the Northland Regional Ambulance District Board of Directors.

PLATTE CITY, Mo. - After an 41 Action News investigation, a Northland politician is facing criminal charges.

On Wednesday, Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd charged Dearborn resident Kevin N. Rawlings of misusing official information. Rawlings is the board president of the Northland Regional Ambulance District (NRAD).

Last year, an NBC Action News investigation raised questions about a land deal between Rawlings and NRAD.

Court documents allege Rawlings bought land near the Camden Point exit of Interstate 29, knowing NRAD planned to build a new station in that area.

Rawlings bought 34 acres for $130,000 in 2010 and later resold a small portion (1.5 acres) to the ambulance district for $175,000. NRAD never performed an appraisal before signing the purchase agreement. However, an independent appraisal later requested by authorities estimated the value at just $30,600.

Reached at his Dearborn home on Wednesday, Rawlings maintained he did nothing wrong, insisting the agreement had gone through appropriate bidding procedures. Rawlings also pointed out that other board members approved the purchase.

“I didn’t misrepresent what I was selling. I didn’t force them to buy it. What more can you ask anybody to do?” he said.

In late 2010, bids were posted in public newspapers asking for land almost exactly where Rawlings had made the earlier purchase. There was no deadline given on the request for bids.

When a landowner approached NRAD with an offer of 3 acres for $100,000 dollars in early 2011, an email obtained by NBC Action News shows Rawlings directed NRAD’s executive director to respond, “We already have a contract on ground and won’t be needing any more bids.”

The Platte County Sheriff’s Department investigated before presenting the case to Zahnd. Sheriff Richard Anderson noted it is rare for his department to tackle public corruption allegations.

“Because of the potential of serious consequences to taxpayers in terms of wasteful spending, we felt we needed to take a look,” said Anderson.

Both Anderson and Zahnd credited the NBC Action News report along with stories in the Platte County Landmark for helping to launch the investigation.

“This case would have never come to light without that in-depth investigative reporting,” said Zahnd.

The misuse of official information is a class A misdemeanor. If convicted, Rawlings faces up to one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000. Zahnd said it is an example of why Missouri’s ethics laws need more teeth.

Platte County taxpayer Kirby Holden filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission . The ensuing investigation was eventually referred to the Platte County Sheriff.

“I’m glad something was done and hope it stops people in the future,” said Holden. “I think this opens the door to civil action so we can try to recoup that taxpayer money.”

John Calovich Jr, who sold the land to Rawlings in 2010, told NBC Action News he is already considering a possible civil lawsuit.

Rawlings will not be running for re-election this year. Sources told NBC Action News NRAD Executive Director also recently announced his resignation. At this point, the criminal charges only revolve around Rawlings, but Zahnd noted the investigation is ongoing.

Ryan Kath can be reached by email at kath@nbcactionnews.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook .

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