The Helena Police Department announced at the start of the week that it would not be pursuing charges against Corey Stapleton for his misuse of a state vehicle because the statute of limitations on the misdemeanor charge has expired–at least on the portion of Stapleton’s travel covered by the legislative audit of Stapleton’s office.
While the city cannot violate the statute of limitations, I was troubled to learn that the city had not—and apparently would not—investigate Stapleton’s potential misuse of the vehicle outside the audit window between July 2018 and April 2019. After all, a brief perusal of the daily despair pornography in the Helena IR crime reports suggests that the Helena Police Department acts with alacrity to investigate minor shoplifting cases, but perhaps the city is really not empowered to conduct such an investigation.
What I am most concerned about, though, is that Stapleton pay us back for his misuse of state funds. While the audit found that $5,700 of the expenses were definitively in violation of state law, I would argue that Stapleton owes us much more: the full $12,743 for his use of state vehicle and any other use that occurred between July 2018 and April 2019. Only full payment for his use of the vehicle, which seems primarily to have been used for political events, personal travel home, and the commute to Mr. Stapleton’s Helena hotel room, will send a strong message about government accountability.
It appears that Stapleton, who frequently positions himself as a fiscal conservative, has not reimbursed the people of Montana for his fraudulent use of the vehicle. I requested comment from the Secretary of State’s office about Stapleton’s intentions and received no response, and none of the reporting in the traditional media includes any indication that Stapleton intends to do the right thing and reimburse the state.
Without Stapleton stepping forward to do the right thing, his act will only embolden future government officials to exploit loopholes for personal gain. If Stapleton can’t be charged because the statute of limitations expired and he won’t be investigated for misuse that occurs outside of the audit window, the only check on future bad behavior is a sense of shame, something that Secretary Stapleton has certainly never demonstrated.