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Griffin Indicted

October 31, 1996
State Capital Bureau

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KANSAS CITY - Former House Speaker Bob Griffin is planning to plead not guilty to a federal grand jury indictment, which accuses Griffin of nine counts of bribery, racketeering and mail fraud.

"Someone lied to the grand jury," Griffin said outside the Kansas City federal court house Thursday.

The former House speaker is among four who were charged in a 46-page, 26-count indictment for activities that involved some of the state's larger special interest groups and some of the biggest issues before the legislature this decade.

If found guilty, Griffin could face up to 90 years in jail without parole.

The indictment alleges Griffin took $61,000 from groups that wanted him to use his power as speaker to influence state legislation.

"All the charges in this 26-count indictment relate to a series of schemes to corruptly buy and sell influence of public office," said U.S. Attorney Stephen Hill.

Hill said the schemes included two bills that had dominated a couple of recent legislative sessions - the six-cent gasoline tax increase that passed the 1992 session and the governor's sweeping bill to expand health-care coverage that died in the 1994 session.

Organizations that the indictment alleges Griffin directly or indirectly got money for his influence include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City and Associated General Contractors, the state's major contractor association.

In addition to Griffin, the others indicted are:

* Cathryn M. Simmons of Kansas City, a political and public relations consultant, who is accused of channeling some of the special payments to Griffin,

* Michael L. Fisher, president of the greater Kansas City AFL-CIO,

* Steven R. Hurst, a Jefferson City-based lobbyist.

The indictment alleges Simmons, hired by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Greater Kansas City, paid Griffin to defeat the health-care bill. As the indictment indicates, Griffin actually voted for and sponsored one version of the health-care legislation.

The health bill had faced strong opposition from the health-care and insurance industries.

With the gas-tax increase, the indictment alleges Simmons paid Griffin $10,000 for passing the bill and for his steering construction industry contracts on the bill to her.

Other schemes, said Hill, involve the removal of Rep. Bill Skaggs, D-Kansas City, from the Certificate of Need Committee, which regulates hospital building and expansion. Griffin allegedly took $10,000 from Simmons after Skaggs was removed.

The indictment also includes a 1993 highway bond bill for which Griffin's son, Jeff, was hired as a lobbyist, allegedly in exchange for Bob Griffin's help in passing the bill.

The investigation, conducted by the IRS and FBI, has been ongoing since June 1993, and the federal grand jury dates back to November 1993. Its term expired Thursday.

The indictment comes just five days before the election. But Hill, a Democrat, said accusations that the indictment would be used to taint various issues or candidates is "flat wrong."

"We operate without respect to timing of elections, and I know of no case brought by this office...that was delayed and advanced because of any consideration related to an election," Hill said.

He did not say whether there were any more indictments to be returned by the grand jury.

"The case alleges no wrongdoing by any current office holder or by any current candidates for public office," he said.

Hill also said the case does not affect any current ballot issues, either.

Despite Griffin's alleged pocketing of $61,000, an IRS spokesman said no charges were brought for any income tax violations.

Griffin is the first House speaker in nearly 20 years to be indicted. In 1976, out-going Speaker Richard Rabbit was charged with influence peddling and eventually was sentenced to prison.

Griffin stepped down as speaker of the House last January after holding the office for 15 years -- the longest tenure of any House speaker.