Ethics panel dismisses complaint from Democrat who was censured by Missouri House

In a unanimous decision, the bipartisan committee found the complaint filed by Rep. Wiley Price was ‘unsubstantiated’

By: - May 12, 2022 7:30 am

Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, filed an ethics complaint Tuesday against House Speaker Rob Vescovo (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

The Missouri House Ethics Committee on Wednesday unanimously dismissed a complaint against Speaker Rob Vescovo filed by a Democratic lawmaker who was censured last year for ​​allegedly lying about a sexual encounter with an intern and retaliating against an employee who reported it.

Rep. Wiley Price of St. Louis filed the complaint Tuesday alleging Vescovo committed perjury associated with a 2016 filing to be a candidate for state representative. Price’s complaint claims Vescovo falsely stated in an affidavit that he didn’t owe any taxes that year. 

The allegations against Vescovo were first made in a lawsuit filed by his 2016 general election opponent, who was asking a judge to block Vescovo from appearing on the ballot. Vescovo vehemently denied the allegations, and the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

The ethics committee, made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, met Wednesday afternoon to discuss Price’s complaint in closed session. The decision, which was printed in the House journal, says Price’s complaint contained no supporting documentation. 

The unanimous decision concluded Price’s complaint was “unsubstantiated and should be dismissed.” 

The committee reviewed the 2016 judgment issued by the circuit judge in that matter. After a full trial hearing testimony and receiving evidence, the decision noted, the judge determined Vescovo was “not delinquent in any taxes.”

“It is apparent that Rep. Price wants this committee to review a six-year-old final judgment of a circuit court judge, after an evidentiary trial on the merits, which was not appealed by the opposing party, without any further relevant evidence to consider,” the committee’s decision states. “This committee declines to do so.” 

Ethics committee proceedings are typically confidential. But the committee stated in its decision that Price provided a copy of his complaint to a member of the media who posted a photo of it on Twitter Tuesday night. 

“Given that the confidentiality of this proceeding has been breached by a leak of the complaint to the media,” the committee’s decision states, “it is also appropriate that this report be made public and be published in the House journal.” 

Reached for comment Thursday, Price said he wasn’t surprised by the committee’s decision.

“Am I shocked this morning? Absolutely not, they did exactly what I thought they were going to do,” he said.

Price insists there was no proof that he lied to the ethics committee and yet he was censured, and he maintains that there is evidence of perjury by Vescovo.

Last year, the Missouri House voted 140-3 to censure Price

That vote came roughly a year after a complaint was filed against Price alleging he violated a House rule prohibiting lawmakers from sexual or romantic relationships with employees or interns. 

The complaint was referred to the House ethics committee to investigate. 

In testimony to the committee, Price’s legislative assistant claimed he admitted to her that he had sex with an intern. She alleged that after she informed Price she was required under House rules to report the incident, he threatened to fire her in an attempt to keep her quiet. 

Both Price and the intern deny the sexual encounter took place. Price claims he had already told the legislative assistant he would be replacing her prior to her making the allegations. He admitted lying to a House investigator, but said he told the truth in closed-door testimony to the ethics committee.

In December 2020, the ethics committee completed its inquiry and voted unanimously to recommend censuring Price. It released a report that concluded he had committed perjury in his testimony, obstructed the legislative investigation and “compromised the ability of the House to provide a respectful, professional work environment.” 

The House voted to censure Price the next month, and Missouri House Democrats voted to kick him out of their caucus a week later.

The censure vote removed Price from all committee assignments and required him to reimburse the state for the cost of the investigation, which included hiring an outside law firm to conduct the inquiry. 

Earlier this year, an attorney representing Price threatened a lawsuit against the House challenging the financial penalty. Price has had $500 deducted from his legislative paycheck since February 2021.

Price’s attorney previously told The Independent that a final decision on whether to file the lawsuit will not be made until after the legislative session, which ends at 6 p.m. Friday. 

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.