- Associated Press - Friday, April 7, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway announced an investigation Friday into potential conflicts of interest related to state officials’ placement on the board of a company that provides technology that allows truckers to bypass state weigh stations while also regulating the industry.

Galloway announced the investigation Friday after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (https://bit.ly/2nLCsia ) current and former Missouri regulators have worked for HELP Inc., and that the FBI is investigating. The nonprofit has invested about $20 million installing sensors in state rights-of-way and transponder technology that allows semi drivers who pay for a service called PrePass to avoid the extra time it takes to stop at weigh stations for full inspection.

Questions have arisen in part because Col. Bret Johnson was on HELP’s board when he was superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and sent a letter in August canceling a pilot program from a competitor, Drivewyze.

Brian Heath, the CEO of Drivewyze, and state Republican Rep. T.J. Berry said they have talked to the FBI about potential problems - something FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said she could neither confirm nor deny.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is a conflict of interest,” said Berry, who is sponsoring a bill that targets what he sees as barriers to fair competition in the industry.

Johnson said he sees no conflict with his role with HELP, which has made developing public-private partnerships with states part of its strategy. Most of the states where HELP Inc. operates have state employees on the board. Besides Johnson, a Missouri Department of Transportation official also was on the company’s board.

Additionally, many of those states’ agencies, including Missouri, use federal transportation dollars to pay dues to belong to HELP Inc., which has $90 million a year in revenue.

Johnson said the issue that led to pulling the plug on the Drivewyze pilot is that the company didn’t have access to the “weigh-in-motion” data from sensors in state highways that had been installed by HELP, and that state law requires that data to operate. Drivewyze - and state lawmakers, including GOP Sen. Rob Schaaf - tried to get the data from the state, arguing it was public record. The state denied the requests.

Schaaf is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate that would allow competitors to share the data.

Johnson, who retired from the Highway Patrol in February, has since started a consulting company and has a contract as an adviser to HELP Inc. CEO Karen Rasmussen.

Rasmussen said Johnson won’t work on Missouri projects. She also said that while she hasn’t spoken with the FBI, she is aware of what she termed their “inquiry.”

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