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Mo. auditor, prosecutors back bill to levy harsher punishment against public officials who steal taxpayer funds

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's state auditor is putting crooked public officials on notice. Nicole Galloway is joining state prosecutors to fight for legislation that would make it easier to prosecute officials for their crimes.

If you are a public official and you misappropriate thousands of dollars, the worst state charge you'll ever face is a misdemeanor. Now, prosecutors and Galloway are fighting to change that. The auditor appeared with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to back a Missouri Senate bill that will make it a felony for public officials to steal taxpayer money.

Galloway said that under current law, if a county assessor was found guilty of giving thousands of dollars away in unjustified tax abatements to family members, the harshest punishment that assessor could receive would be a misdemeanor.

The proposed bill also will give the state auditor's office the power to audit the financial records of local officials if requested to by police or a prosecutor.

“Since taking office we've identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in misspent or misappropriated funds. When we present these findings to citizens, the first question I get is, ‘how do we hold these public officials accountable?’” Galloway said.

If passed, the law will also make it easier to collect restitution from those convicted. The law is being sponsored by Greene County Senator Bob Dixon and is expected to have broad bipartisan support.

Under current Missouri law, the only way the state auditor's office can audit the finances of a suspected crooked local official -- is at the request of the governor or the request of the citizens of the town where that official lives. It's always difficult for people who live in a small town to turn in one of their own.