The city of Helena will not take any action against the secretary of state for his misuse of a state pickup, citing the clock running out on the timeline to file charges.
On June 19, the state Department of Criminal Investigation asked the Helena Police Department to investigate Secretary of State Corey Stapleton's leasing of a state pickup to commute to and from Helena from his family home in Billings. Stapleton is required in the state Constitution to have a residence in the capital city.
A legislative audit flagged the misuse, which Stapleton's office contended in a June hearing qualifies as "telework," saying it does not believe that breaks any state laws. Auditors determined the vehicle was used for commuting.
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For the period from Jan. 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, the pickup was used to commute between Stapleton's residence at least 69 days, for a cost of at least $5,722 and about 27,000 excess miles on the vehicle, according to the audit.
Legislative auditors notified the state Attorney General's Office of the possible misdemeanor committed by Stapleton, a first-term Republican who is running for Montana's U.S. House seat in 2020. The office asked the Helena police to investigate.
Attorney General Tim Fox, also a Republican, is termed out from running again for attorney general and is seeking the governorship in 2020. Stapleton had previously announced a bid for governor, but switched on June 15 to the U.S. House race after that officeholder, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, also a Republican, said he's running for governor.
In a July 29 letter to the Department of Criminal Investigation, city attorney Thomas Jodoin said his office will not take further action because misdemeanor charges must be filed within a year of the alleged offense.
"If the Secretary's last use was indeed toward the end of June 2018, our deadline for filing charges was the end of June 2019," Jodoin wrote.
"Considering the above, the city of Helena will not be pursuing charges against the Secretary for his use of the state-owned vehicle."
A spokesman for the Attorney General's office said Tuesday it has "every confidence in the Helena Police Department’s investigation and conclusions."
Stapleton, citing a prior commitment, did not attend a June meeting of the Legislative Audit Committee that reviewed the report about his misuse of the pickup. In his place, Stapleton's deputy didn't directly answer questions about whether the secretary misused the vehicle, repeatedly responding that the vehicle was used for "telework.
However, the deputy did point out the vehicle was returned to the state motor pool when auditors raised questions.