The AP reported Wednesday that the state attorney general’s office, headed by Democrat Tom Miller, has dropped an inquiry at the request of Board of Regents counsel Aimee Claeys into the damages Iowa State University President Steven Leath caused to a university-owned airplane while flying home from a vacation in July 2015 in possible violation of ISU policy and state law.

According to the report, assistant attorney general Rob Sand, a rising star in Iowa politics who prosecutes white-collar crime, requested documents about the incident (embedded below) from the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington without his supervisors’ knowledge. When the Board of Regents found out about it, apparently because of another records request filed with the airport by ISU spokesman John McCarroll, Claeys contacted the AG’s office.

The office then dropped the inquiry, according to the report, because crimes are typically investigated by law enforcement, not prosecutors, and because the office wouldn’t have jurisdiction to file charges unless it received a referral from a county attorney.

The exact nature of Sand’s inquiry isn’t clear, and he didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about it. (Disclosure: Before becoming a journalist, I volunteered on former state lawmaker Ed Fallon’s gubernatorial campaign when Sand was a staffer on it.) But Sand’s supervisor, assistant attorney general Scott Brown, ended up emailing the documents Sand received to newly appointed Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds.

“I looked at it. There was no evidence of a crime in it,” Reynolds told the Informer. “I told them, ‘If you have evidence of a crime, you need to call local law enforcement.’ They said, ‘Well, okay, we don’t have any evidence of a crime at this time.’”

Similar to the attorney general’s office, she said, “My role is obviously to prosecute crimes once they’ve been investigated” (the AG’s office, she added, also provides legal representation to ISU, which could cause a conflict of interest if it chose to investigate its president). If someone has evidence of a crime, she said, they need to refer it to local law enforcement, in this case Ames police, and if they decide to file charges after conducting an investigation that’s when Reynolds would take the case.

ISU policy and state law both have prohibitions against the private use of university-owned vehicles, although Leath has maintained that all of the trips he took included school business, typically meeting with potential donors. The documents from the Bloomington airport that Reynolds reviewed don’t touch on any of this.

But they do include incident and inspection reports from the day of Leath’s hard landing that caused over $14,000 in damages (PDF) to the university’s Cirrus SR22, an email Leath sent using his personal Gmail account to the airport the following day describing the accident, and a copy of a $240 check he sent it to replace a runway light he smashed into:

Leath Bloomington Airport Incident Report (Pages 2-3)

Leath Emails Airport About Incident (Page 8)

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.