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Helena attorney won’t prosecute Stapleton over vehicle use

July 30, 2019
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2018 file photo, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton testifies before an interim legislative committee in Helena, Mont. The city of Helena won't pursue criminal charges against Stapleton for using a state pickup truck to travel home to Billings on weekends, the city's attorney said Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2018 file photo, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton testifies before an interim legislative committee in Helena, Mont. The city of Helena won't pursue criminal charges against Stapleton for using a state pickup truck to travel home to Billings on weekends, the city's attorney said Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record, File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The city of Helena won’t pursue criminal charges against Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for using a state pickup truck to travel home to Billings on weekends, the city’s attorney said Tuesday.

Legislative auditors found Stapleton put nearly 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) on the state vehicle for personal travel from January 2017 through June 2018, costing taxpayers $5,700.

Auditors informed the attorney general’s office of their findings on May 30, and the attorney general’s office referred the issue to the Helena Police Department for investigation on June 19.

City Attorney Thomas Jodoin wrote to the state Department of Criminal Investigations on Monday saying the one-year statute of limitations on the alleged misdemeanor expired last month, so the city wouldn’t be filing charges against Stapleton.

The audit report noted the findings didn’t account for any travel that may have occurred from July 2018 to April 2019 when auditors questioned the use of the vehicle and it was returned to the state motor pool.

That additional use wasn’t investigated.

“No allegations of unlawful use of a state vehicle from July 1, 2018 to when the vehicle was returned to the state motor pool were provided to (Helena Police) or my office,” Jodoin said in an email.

Police Chief Steve Hagen said his office could only investigate the allegations raised by the audit.

John Barnes, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said: “We have every confidence in the Helena Police Department’s investigation and conclusion.”

Stapleton, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, did not respond to an email to his office Tuesday seeking comment.

During a Legislative Audit Committee hearing last month, lawmakers questioned deputy secretary of state Christi Jacobsen, who told the committee the vehicle was used for “teleworking.”

“So again,” Republican Sen. Jason Ellsworth said in trying to draw out an explanation during the June 26 hearing, “they’re living in Helena, then they’re taking a state vehicle to drive to Billings to then telework?”

“Correct,” Jacobsen responded.

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