- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - A Joplin City Council member who was serving as mayor when the city was struck with a deadly tornado in 2011 says federal investigators are looking into whether any of his real estate transactions after the storm were improper or resulted in misappropriation of city funds.

Councilman Mike Woolston, a real estate agent, said Thursday that he has not been contacted by the FBI, but he has been told by “other entities” that he is the subject of a federal probe, the Joplin Globe (https://bit.ly/1Gq3HAy ) reported. Woolston said he learned four or five weeks ago of the probe, though he declined to say who told him.

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said the agency doesn’t ordinarily confirm or deny investigations, but that she would check on whether there is any information she can release.

Woolston brokered the sale of some properties in an area where the new Joplin Public Library is to be built. He said he took a commission on one property but said he didn’t receive commissions on other properties after he learned the site would be considered for the library.

The properties were later sold to the Joplin Redevelopment Corp. for use in a development involving the library and an adjacent retail and entertainment project.

“I would assume that they are looking at those transactions to see if I collected any (city) money,” Woolston said Thursday. “I don’t know what else it would be if it weren’t that. They’re looking for a big-dollar misappropriation.”

Joplin has received $158 million in disaster recovery Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $25 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration. The money is paid to the city as it submits invoices for expenditures on projects approved by HUD - which conducts periodic spot checks of the city’s planning and work with that money - and the EDA.

City Attorney Peter Edwards said he is not aware of any city officials that have been questioned by the FBI, nor does he know of any subpoenas or city records sought by federal investigators.

An investigation contracted by the City Council last year led to public outcry when it resulted in the firing of city manager Mark Rohr. It also criticized Woolston’s real estate dealings.

Investigator Tom Loraine, an Osage Beach attorney, called for Woolston to resign from the council or divest his business interests because of the property transactions.

At the time of Loraine’s report, Woolston said it was based on inaccurate information that the investigator didn’t independently evaluate.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, https://www.joplinglobe.com

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