By Derek Spellman
CARTHAGE, Mo. — With two county officials and her attorney present, former Jasper County Public Administrator Rita Hunter on Wednesday night delivered boxes of what are believed to be county files missing since last week.
Hunter gave no explanation for why the files were removed from the public administrator’s office sometime before her successor, Angie Casavecchia, assumed office on Friday. County officials, at least for now, are not seeking one.
The files contain information, according to officials, that is vital to the care of people who cannot care for themselves and have been named wards of the county.
Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson said he and Presiding County Commissioner John Bartosh were present about 6 p.m. when Hunter delivered about 30 boxes of files to the county courthouse in Carthage.
Asked why he did not press Hunter for an explanation as to why she took the files, Dankelson said: “To me it’s not relevant why she took them. To me it’s relevant they were brought back.”
But Dankelson then said: “This case is just started. It did not end tonight.”
Dankelson said he and Casavecchia would be reviewing the contents of the files to verify that all the necessary information is intact. He also said his office would help advance Casavecchia’s request for an audit of the public administrator’s office during Hunter’s tenure.
Efforts to reach Bartosh for comment Wednesday night were unsuccessful.
Phone messages left for Hunter at her home on Wednesday were not returned. Efforts to reach her for comment on Monday and Tuesday also were unsuccessful.
Hunter was ousted by Casavecchia in the Republican primary in August. The latter went on to run unopposed in the November general election.
After taking office last week, Casavecchia discovered that records on all of the county wards had been deleted from computers at the Carthage office. Paper files with wards’ information also had been removed from the office.
Casavecchia has said the office has an estimated 290 clients.
Casavecchia and Gretchen Long, the new attorney for the public administrator, this week have obtained some client information from the office of attorney John Podleski, who is an assistant county prosecutor under Dankelson and who served as the public administrator’s attorney under Hunter. Casavecchia early this week said Hunter came to her home on New Year’s Day and told her that the paper files were at Podleski’s office.
Casavecchia said information for about 160 wards had been transferred from Podleski to her as of Wednesday. Casavecchia said she hopes that transfer of documents will be complete by the weekend.
But Podleski had only information such as benefit checks, wards’ personal identification, and receipts on burial policies or pre-need burial plans.
The information that Casavecchia said is vital to caring for wards — personal data, medical records, housing information and care plans — was contained in the files that Hunter apparently had removed.
Dankelson said Hunter’s attorney, Judy Moore, contacted him Wednesday to advise him that Hunter apparently had those files. Dankelson said Moore told him that Hunter told her that she took the files because she thought she would need them to defend herself in a number of lawsuits brought by current and former wards.
Efforts to reach Moore for comment Wednesday night were unsuccessful.
Dankelson said he told Moore that the files needed to be restored to the county on Wednesday.
Casavecchia, for her part, said it was not relevant to her why Hunter reportedly took the files.
“I’m just glad I got (them) back,” she said, noting that the information in the missing files would allow her to pay wards’ bills, pay their landlords and have contact information.
Allegations of overcharging the estates of county wards and other financial issues are raised in lawsuits that have been filed against Rita Hunter. Similar questions are being raised on Angie Casavecchia’s behalf in filings in probate court that argue that Hunter should have to provide a financial accounting of how wards’ estates were handled before the court releases her from responsibility in the estates.
By Derek Spellman