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Video reveals feud between Marion restaurant owner, Kansas newspaper days before raid

Aug 7 Marion Council Meeting.png
Posted at 5:45 PM, Aug 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-19 20:29:45-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A recorded Marion City Council meeting gives new insight into what happened in the days leading up to the police raids of a Kansas newspaper and two homes.

In the video, dated Aug. 7, the voice of a woman who identifies herself as Kari Newell, a Marion restaurant owner, can be heard accusing a member of the city council and the paper of "illegally" accessing her information.

"It was brought to my attention today that my privileged, personal information, that was illegally obtained by a local reporter, was shared with council member, Ruth Herbel," Newell told the City Council.

Herbel's home was one of three places raided by police, who according to the warrant, were searching for records pertaining to Newell.

The alleged crimes listed on the warrant were identify theft and unlawful acts concerning computers.

It's not clear who told Newell her information was "illegally" obtained.

Newell did not return phone messages left for her by the I-Team Friday.

While the I-Team cannot access Newell's driving record, because the information is not publicly available, the newspaper told the I-Team it was looking into a tip about an alleged DUI Newell received in 2008.

Marion County Record said the information provided to the reporter was used to access Newell's information on a state website.

Newell is in the process of seeking a liquor license.

In the video, Newell can be heard telling the city council that legal action was underway.

"My concern is that my council member would recklessly and negligently share that information with others," Newell said. "This is going to be placed with the county attorney."

Since Friday's raid, the I-Team has received numerous tips about Newell's indirect connection to Joel Ensey, Marion county attorney.

Property records show Newell operates her restaurant in a building owned by Ensey's brother and sister-in-law.

The liquor license is currently held by the hotel's owners.

The community contacted KSHB 41 News about a potential conflict of interest.

The I-Team took those concerns to Steve Leben, a former judge and professor of law at University of Missouri - Kansas City.

Leben said lawyers have written ethics that determine when a lawyer must withdraw from a case due to a conflict of interest.

"County attorney's brother and sister-in-law own a hotel, and their tenant, who is applying for a liquor's license, is the alleged victim in a potential crime," Leben said. "For the attorney to have to withdraw here, we'd have to conclude that there's a substantial risk that the attorney's decisions would be materially limited by his personal interest."

Leben said Ensey could withdraw from the case but it doesn't appear necessary.

"Looking at this from the outside, I don't think there's enough here to say objectively there's a conflict," Leben said.

Four days after the raid, the KSHB I-Team broke the news Ensey revoked the warrant and ordered the court to return the seized items.

Moments later, Ensey issued a statement writing that while the affidavit, "Established probable cause to believe that an employee of the newspaper may have committed the crime of unlawful acts concerning computers," there was insufficient evidence to connect a crime to the places searched.

Leben analyzed Ensey's statement and said a search warrant is supposed to give enough evidence to show probable cause to believe a crime was committed not that a crime "may" have been committed.

“If the affidavit did give enough evidence to support a probable-cause determination, there was no need to use the word ‘may’ in that sentence,” Leben said. “So we can’t be sure from the County Attorney’s statement whether even he believes the affidavits supported a probable-cause conclusion that a crime had been committed.”

Leben also noted the initial crime sought by police of identity theft was no longer listed.

During the Aug. 7 city council meeting, Eric Meyer, owner of Marion County Record, can be heard refuting Newell's claims.

In fact, Meyer said he was also worried Newell's information was obtained illegally by the person who sent him the tip and that he was the one who alerted police.

"We were sent information last week on Ms. Newell that we were concerned might have been obtained illegally," Meyer said. "We did not obtain it."

Meyer told the I-Team his staff merely confirmed the tip through a state website where the reporter used her own information to verify.

The newspaper never published Newell's information.

"Never-the-less, we did, last Friday, contact the police chief in Marion that this information had been provided to us and offered any further information," Meyer said.

Vice mayor and city council woman, Ruth Herbel can be heard asking,"Eric, was it (Newell's information) shared with me?'

Meyer responded, "No. Nothing. Certainly not by me. No, we did not share it with you. In fact, I never talked to you about it."

Herbel asks Meyer, "So, you're saying, what she's (Newell) saying is not fact?"

Meyer responds, "From my perspective, it certainly is not. She (Newell) initially said a reporter obtained this information illegally, we did not obtain it."

In the video, Meyer encourages people to contact police to verify what happened, saying he gave the tip to them just like it was given to him.

"If you don't believe me, both the sheriff and the police chief have copies of messages I sent last Friday."

During the meeting, Newell called Herbel "vile" and said the vice mayor acted "recklessly."

Herbel asked Newell for more details about her claims, Newell responded by saying, "I definitely will when this progresses to the level that it looks like it's going to."

Four days after the city council meeting, police raided the newspaper, Meyer's home and Herbel's home.

Meyer said police never contacted him for more information. That if authorities spoke tried to speak to him, he would have cooperated.