Cole County leaders criticize prosecutor's drone purchases

Richardson bought two in last year

Cole County leaders criticize prosecutors drone purchases

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Cole County leaders are raising concerns about two drone purchases by the county's outgoing prosecuting attorney, saying he spent the money in a way that isn't permitted by law.

Mark Richardson bought a drone about a year ago for just less than $4,500 and gave it to the Jefferson City Police Department. Officers have used the drone several times, JCPD Lt. David Williams said. Most recently, it was used to help search for a missing boy, Darnell Gray. 

Last month, Richardson paid B&H Foto & Electronics, a New York-based company, a little more than $16,000 for a drone with several accessories. One attachment -- a $10,000 thermal camera -- cost more than the drone itself. It is unclear what Richardson intends to do with the new drone -- the prosecutor did not make himself available for an interview despite several attempts by ABC 17 News to talk to him about the purchases.

The drones were bought using the county's delinquent tax fund, which is under the county prosecuting attorney's control. 

Click here to see a check register for the fund covering June 5 to Dec. 5.

Cole County Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said no checks are in place for use of the fund. According to state statute, the fund can only be used for specific purposes inside the prosecutor's office.

The statute states money from the fund can be used "for office supplies, postage, books, training, office equipment, capital outlay, expenses of trial and witness preparation, additional employees for the staff of the prosecuting or circuit attorney, salary supplements for existing employees on the staff of the prosecuting or circuit attorney."

"Nowhere in here does it say that money is used for law enforcement," Bushman said. "(Richardson) didn't use this money properly."

Kris Scheperle, the western district commissioner for Cole County, said the drone purchases are a liability for the county.

"There is no purpose for the (prosecuting attorney) to purchase a drone with his funds," Scheperle told ABC 17 News in an email. "A drone will not help in the prosecution of individuals and therefore is not permitted by law to be purchased using these funds."

Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said he was unaware of Richardson's purchases or why the drone was given it to the city police department. 

"I am still trying to get answers myself," Hoelscher said in an email. "The expenditure did not require (the Cole County Commission's) approval."

Richardson, a Republican who was upset by first-time candidate Locke Thompson in the August primary election, will vacate the office Dec. 31.

"I completely support our law enforcement officers and believe we need to do everything we can to give them the resources and equipment they need to do their jobs safely," Thompson said. "However, based on the statute, I don’t believe it’s a permissible use of funds for the prosecutor to buy a drone."

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