Memo hints at FBI's look at City Hall

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net
The Examiner

A sentencing memo for an Independence resident’s federal probation violation mentions Independence City Council Member Mike Huff’s name in describing an apparent fraud scheme involving a local tow truck company.

Huff’s name was not mentioned during Friday morning’s hearing in federal court for Jeremy Ploeger, who had asked his probation and supervised release be transferred to Oklahoma, where his family now lives. But a fellow City Council member says the memo indicates Huff could be part of an FBI investigation.

Huff did not return a message Friday morning seeking comment.

Ploeger pleaded guilty in March 2018 to two counts of bank fraud and was sentenced in August that year to three years of supervised release. According to the memo, filed this week by his attorney John Osgood, he received leniency with that sentence because he was a cooperating witness in a public corruption case that resulted in the conviction of a former Jackson County official. A federal judge, agreeing with the recommendation of Osgood and federal prosecutors, extended Ploeger’s supervised release to February 2022 and transferred it to Oklahoma.

According to the memo, Ploeger met Huff while helping with his campaign for the City Council in early 2018, and Huff later hired him for some construction work. In the fall of 2018, Ploeger learned from Huff of a possible arrangement to get rid of a vehicle his family wasn’t driving and for which they had stopped making payments.

In the arrangement, a tow service company would retitle and possess a vehicle as a salvage vehicle. The tow company notifies the lien holder, and if the lien holder does not try to retrieve the vehicle in 30 days, the tow company gets a “clean” salvage title and possibly sells the vehicle for profit. The arrangement, though, still apparently leaves the vehicle’s original owner responsible for financing payments.

Ploeger’s case involved a vehicle bought while the family briefly lived in Texas before he met Huff, and Ploeger did not notify the car company there of an address change. Huff said his tow service friend who was the initial point of contact sold the business. The new owner, King Towing, filed a state form for retitling the vehicle but falsely stated the vehicle was in the tow company’s possession and had been abandoned. Ploeger never saw the form and did not know of the false information.

According to the memo, the FBI learned of Ploeger’s role, which amounted to “willful blindness,” and flagged the probation violation while investigating different city of Independence matters. The investigation reportedly began in late 2019 regarding two Independence city utility projects – a July 2017 contract to demolish the old Missouri City power plant and the city's purchase of the former Rockwood Golf Club later that year for a solar farm.

Huff, who was not a member of the council when either decision took place, told The Examiner in 2019 the FBI knew that when they talked with him, and their discussion centered around the aforementioned projects and individuals outside the city.

“They didn't ask me about any City Council people, per se,” Huff said.

Huff also said he learned after the fact that FBI agents reportedly had a wiretap placed in a City Hall meeting room as part of the investigation and had retrieved it before Thanksgiving that year.

Council Member Dan Hobart said after Friday’s hearing that going solely from the memo, and based on his career as a criminal defense attorney, it appears Huff “may be the target of an FBI investigation.”

“That’s not unusual, for collateral matters to reveal themselves in an investigation, and for the parties to change,” he said.

The fact Huff’s name is even mentioned in the memo, he said, is “embarrassing” and disappointing.

“It hurts our already diminished reputation in the city, it feels like we can do better,” Hobart said. 

Asked what he might say to Huff about possible actions in response to the apparent tow service involvement, Hobart said, “I don’t have the type of relationship with Mike Huff that I can do that.”