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Dems accuse Missouri GOP state rep of ‘fraudulent scheme’ to hide his move out of district

Dems accuse Missouri GOP state rep of ‘fraudulent scheme’ to hide his move out of district

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Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, speaks on the floor of the House on Friday, May 17, 2019. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Democrats want Republican state Rep. Nick Schroer booted from the November ballot after he and his wife sold their O’Fallon home in May and purchased a new one in Defiance — outside Schroer’s 107th House District.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in St. Charles County Circuit Court, Schroer’s Democratic opponent, Victoria Witt Datt, accused Schroer of a “fraudulent scheme” to conceal the fact that he moved, including updating his driver’s license with a false address within the district.

The lawsuit says the actual inhabitants of Schroer’s in-district housing, on the 300 block of San Jose Drive in O’Fallon, are Mary Gerst, 60, and her mother, Elizabeth Gerst, 85.

Schroer said in an interview Thursday that his daughter, who attends private school in the Francis Howell School District, couldn’t access necessary services from O’Fallon’s Fort Zumwalt School District, where the Schroers had lived, without her attending class in that district.

“So I ended up telling my wife, I said ‘look, you know, we’ll find a house (in Francis Howell),’ we can get it fixed up,” he said. “I’ll make the sacrifice to live away from the girls. I do it already all the time.”

He said he signed a lease with Mary Gerst, who is a close family friend; he sent a picture of the lease, dated May 20.

“It may seem weird with our situation,” Schroer acknowledged. “I’m willing to do this where I’m putting them to bed and making sure that Daddy’s home and doing things like that. If I have to sleep somewhere else, and live with my close family friend, so be it. You know what I mean?

“I’ve got a nice little set-up in their basement with a gym and everything for me,” Schroer said. He said he just recently explained the situation to some constituents, saying “I’m getting a room set up over here. You know, some family friends, you know, a couch, a TV, a workout facility. And that’s about it. That’s all I really need.”

The lawsuit says: “Schroer has changed the address on his driver’s license to make it appear that he is residing with a 60-year-old woman and her 85-year-old mother in a 960 square foot, three bedroom, one bathroom house, rather than residing with his wife and children in the 2,300 square foot, four bedroom, three bathroom house they just purchased.”

It continues, “Schroer also amended his Candidate Committee registration statement with the Missouri Ethics Commission to list the Gerst House as his residence. On his MEC registration, however, Schroer uses a P.O. Box as his mailing address, presumably so that Mary and Elizabeth Gerst do not receive official mail intended for him.”

Schroer, 34, said he updated all of his information in an attempt to do everything “by the book” and didn’t try to conceal the move.

‘Like Johnny Cash’

He said recently he’s been splitting his time between his family’s property in Fayette, Missouri, his house in Defiance, Mary Gerst’s house and in Jefferson City.

“I feel like Johnny Cash — I’ve been everywhere,” Schroer said.

State voter registration records show Schroer is registered to vote at the San Jose Drive address; his ethics commission paperwork lists the San Jose Drive address as well as a P.O. Box. He said he voted in the August primary from the San Jose Drive address.

Matt Vianello, an attorney with the Jacobson Press law firm specializing in election law, is representing Datt. The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jon Cunningham on Thursday.

St. Charles County property records show that on May 21, Schroer and his wife, Katherine, transferred ownership of their O’Fallon property, on the 500 block of Deer Brook Drive.

That same day, ownership of the Defiance property, on the 800 block of Outback Court, about 15 miles from the Deer Brook address, was transferred to the Schroers.

St. Charles County assessor records show the Schroers sold the Deer Brook Drive property for $262,500, after purchasing it in 2013 for $173,695.

Records peg the adjusted sale price of their new Outback Court property at $480,000.

The Missouri Constitution says when a state representative moves out of his or her’s district, his or her “office shall thereby be vacated.”

Datt asked for an order disqualifying Schroer from the election and removing his name from the ballot.

“I’m disappointed to hear that Representative Schroer has abandoned the constituents here,” Datt said in a statement. “It’s insulting if true that he thinks so little of our community in O’Fallon that he’d move out of town, then lie to all of us so he can keep taking our tax dollars in his paycheck.”

Private investigator on case

Kyle Garner, executive director of the county Democrats, said a “concerned voter” contacted the party, sparking the investigation that led to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, a private investigator “confirms” Schroer parks his Dodge Ram, with a specialty “R 107” license plate, outside of the house in Defiance, an unincorporated community in St. Charles County. The investigator reported no vehicles “associated with Schroer” have “been seen” at Gerst’s house, the lawsuit says.

“Schroer became ineligible to represent the 107th when he moved out of the district,” Garner said in a statement, accusing Schroer of filing fraudulent reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission and illegally acting during the current special session.

In a lengthy letter posted online early Friday, Schroer said he had “kept a fully transparent position in regard to this move online and with friends, family, and constituents that inquired.”

The letter concluded: “I hope that the General Public can see through this political circus.”

According to state court records, Schroer, an attorney, represented Mary Gerst last year when she faced a parking violation in St. Charles. She ultimately paid a $164 fine, according to the records.

Schroer said he’s worked traffic cases for Gerst and paid her cash to stay there. He agreed to pay Gerst $125 per month for a lease ending on Dec. 31, 2022, according to a copy of the lease he sent to the Post-Dispatch.

“I’ve just been giving her cash and legal services,” Schroer said.

Residency bill sponsor

Schroer has filed eight bills during the Legislature’s current special session on violent crime, including some proposals backed by Gov. Mike Parson.

Among the legislation he is sponsoring is a bill scrapping St. Louis’ residency requirement for first responders.

In the past, he successfully helped push through one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws, which is held up in federal court. He also led an unsuccessful attempt last year to curtail the Sunshine Law.

This is the second time since 2016 the state representative from the 107th District has faced scrutiny over their residency.

State Rep. Ron Hicks, a Republican, quit in August 2016 after the Post-Dispatch reported he had moved out of the O’Fallon-based district to Dardenne Prairie.

Democrats pushed for Hicks’ resignation from the House. He resigned shortly thereafter, avoiding a potentially embarrassing scene as lawmakers prepared to return to the Capitol in September 2016.

Hicks subsequently won election in 2018 to represent the 102nd House District — where Schroer’s new house is located.

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