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Kansas Department of Revenue says Marion reporter used different website than police referenced in affidavit

'Can be obtained and reported on legally'
Marion County Record Search.png
Posted at 7:09 PM, Aug 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-22 23:37:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The website Marion Chief of Police Gideon Cody accuses a reporter of accessing illegally is not the website the reporter used, according to Kansas Department of Revenue.

Cody claims in his affidavit the reporter used a website that appears to be the Kansas Motor Vehicles Records search, which requires users to select specific criteria to access another driver's information.

Cody writes in the affidavit, "downloading the document involved either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought. Based on the options available on Kansas DOR records website."

In the affidavit Cody writes the reporter would've needed to select a purpose for the research. Cody didn't think the criteria applied to the reporter.

The KSHB 41 News I-Team contacted KDOR.

In email, KDOR responded by saying, "the service used in the Marion County situation is KDOR's free license status check, which does not require you to select criterion for the purpose of checking the status of an individual's driver's license."

Cody does not write in his affidavit how he learned what website Phyllis Zorn, the Marion reporter in question, used.

Steve Leben, a former judge and professor of law at University of Missouri-Kansas City, said Cody should have divulged how he obtained that information in his affidavit — something Cody did not do.

Additionally, Leben said it's unlikely Zorn broke the law even if she did use the website referenced in Cody's affidavit.

"The affidavit makes clear that the newspaper was involved in reporter activities in what they were doing," Leben said.

Cody accuses the newspaper of committing identity theft and a computer crime.

Cody's investigation centers around Marion restaurant owner Kari Newell's driving record.

Marion County Record received a tip Newell was driving on a suspended license. The tipster also provided the Record with Newell's driving license number, which Zorn used on KDOR's website to find the public information.

Eric Meyer, owner of Marion County Record, said he took the information to police himself because he wasn't sure how the tipster obtained Newell's driver's license number.

The KSHB 41 News I-Team contacted Bernie Rhodes, the newspaper's attorney, about the discrepancy in Cody's affidavit regarding the website used by Zorn.

"That was the aha moment when I knew that the chief didn't know anything about what he was talking about," Rhodes said.

Rhodes invited the I-Team to his office where sealed evidence proves Zorn did use the website KDOR said she used.

According to court records, only two documents were seized involving Newell and KDOR.

The records seized from Zorn's desk and Myer's home list the website as Kansas Driver's License Status Check.

"That's exactly the name from the website that is open to the public," Rhodes said.

KDOR wrote in its statement, "Information from driver's license status checker can be obtained and reported on legally as long as the requestor has the required information."

Cody's warrant was signed off on by Magistrate Judge Laura Viar.

Marion Police and the Marion Sheriff's Department raided Marion County Record, the newspaper owner's home and the home of Ruth Herbel, vice mayor of Marion.

Leben said Cody's affidavit seeking the warrant was "weak" to begin with.

"There was no showing of identity theft," Leben said. "In my opinion, there was no showing of a computer offense."

The KSHB I-Team emailed Kansas Bureau of Investigations and Marion County attorney about the discrepancy.

Neither agency would comment on the case.

Rhodes claims the lack of evidence and discrepancies in Cody's affidavit show Cody doesn't understand Kansas law. And, that Cody didn't bother to find out.

"The facts didn't matter to him," Rhodes said. "The law didn't matter to him. He was just going to prove he was right, and guess what....he wasn't."