Jetton speaks with grand jury about federal corruption investigation

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | 8:38 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Two years ago, Rod Jetton held one of the most powerful jobs in state government as speaker of the Missouri House. Now, unemployed and at the center of a federal corruption investigation, he is staving off charges that could land him in prison.

Jetton told reporters outside the Charles Evans Whittaker Federal Courthouse that he voluntarily spoke with investigators and grand jurors for about an hour Wednesday.

The former Republican House speaker confirmed he was the focus of a bribery and conspiracy investigation but denied any wrongdoing. The FBI is looking into whether Jetton received an illegal kickback from strip club owners in exchange for helping to kill a 2005 bill that would have placed major restrictions on the adult industry.

Jetton, 42, said he knew nothing of a $35,000 donation from the adult entertainment industry to a campaign committee he was affiliated with until 2006 when the FBI asked him about it. He said he opposed the restrictions philosophically and had a personal dislike for the bill's sponsor but never sought to profit from it.

"I didn't ask for any donations," Jetton said. "I didn't want any donations. I wasn't aware of any donation being made. Never did I say to anyone, 'I'll do this if you give us a donation.'"

Jetton acknowledged investigators must have some reason to be targeting him but said he was confused why he was at the center of the federal probe.

"I don't feel I have anything to hide, and I don't understand why it's all going on," he said. "I didn't ever expect to be here."

Among other provisions, the 2005 bill, sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, would have outlawed full nudity, lap dances and tipping in strip clubs. The bill would have also imposed a 10 p.m. closing time on all adult-industry businesses.

Bartle's bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly in March 2005 but never made it to a vote on the House floor in part because it languished in the House Local Government Committee, chaired by former Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit, who opposed the legislation.

Four days before Jetton assigned the bill to the Local Government Committee, a $35,000 donation from strip club owners was received by a campaign committee affiliated with Jetton and former House General Counsel Don Lograsso.

Jetton emphasized that Johnson's committee, which Bartle last month called "unfriendly," was the appropriate destination for the bill. He said similar legislation has been sent there during both his tenure and that of his successor, Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

"Johnson's committee was the logical committee for (the bill)," Jetton said. "He was a good chairman. This committee has been dealing with these kinds of bills under three different chairmen and two speakers. There's nothing abnormal here."

Earlier in the day, Jetton was arraigned on a felony assault charge in Benton

Jetton said he is jobless and living in Cape Girardeau.

Jetton added that he traveled to Kansas City without an attorney because he said he has nothing to hide and does not have enough money to pay for one.

"I can't hire an attorney," Jetton said. "This stuff is expensive."

Jetton's probe is part of what critics have called a "pay-to-play" system in Jefferson City, where legislators are paid by lobbyists and large industries to vote a certain way on an issue. Jetton said no such thing happened while he was in office.

"There's none of that stuff," Jetton said, referring the suggestion that some representatives have taken bribes. "People don't do that. They go up there and vote the way they believe."

Jetton said he doesn't know when he might hear whether he has been indicted, and the grand jury hasn't yet been given a date to reconvene.

He said he wasn't worried about his uncertain future and he is happier now than when he was speaker.

"You can't get worried about it, that's not going to help," Jetton said of his legal troubles. "I wish I wasn't here. I wish it wasn't all happening, but if things don't turn out my way, I'll just keep getting up and going on."

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