JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson wasn’t the only elected official the Doe Run Resources Corp. solicited support from in the company’s failed attempt to get thousands of lead poisoning claims moved from a federal court in St. Louis to Peru.
Doe Run also asked former Attorney General Josh Hawley, current Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and former Gov. Eric Greitens for help getting the cases moved. None of those Republicans ever publicly weighed in on the Maryland Heights-based company’s behalf — setting them apart from Parson, a fellow Republican who sent three letters in support of the company.
Doe Run is in the middle of a decadelong courtroom fight that stems from its ownership of a lead smelter in La Oroya, Peru, a town in the Andes Mountains that became one of the world’s most polluted places on Doe Run’s watch. More than 3,000 young people from Peru have ongoing lead poisoning claims in U.S. District Court.
A former state official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Hawley’s attorney general’s office fielded “repeated” inquiries from Doe Run.
The former official said the agency “did not want to be on the side of people poisoning Peruvian children.”
The company wanted the attorney general’s office to file a brief in federal court supporting its position that the case should be transferred.
The office “didn’t believe there was a real state interest at issue and were also concerned about the moral ramifications of weighing in on behalf of Doe Run in that case,” the former official said.
Chris Nuelle, spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office, confirmed the company contacted the office during the Hawley administration. Nuelle said the contact continued into 2019, when Schmitt became attorney general after Hawley’s election to the U.S. Senate.
“We did not intervene or otherwise get involved on behalf of Doe Run when we were contacted by Doe Run attorneys,” Nuelle said in an email. “I believe AG Hawley similarly declined to intervene or otherwise get involved when asked back in 2018.”
Despite outreach from the company, Greitens had not publicly backed Doe Run by the time he left office on June 1, 2018, a former senior Greitens official said.
Doe Run officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Parson, meanwhile, has defended his intervention, saying Peruvian courts should handle pollution that occurred in Peru. His office said the litigation threatened other companies that also do business overseas.
“We listened to their (Doe Run’s) concerns and heard from a number of other Missouri business groups and companies that also have operations across the globe and were worried about the fairness of this legal action which concerned events that transpired some 3,600 miles away,” Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in a statement.
The Post-Dispatch reported this month that on July 3, 2018, a little more than one month after taking office, Parson sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for the State Department to help move the litigation to Peru.
In December 2018, Doe Run’s parent company and its top executive contributed a combined $27,500 to Parson’s election effort, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.
Parson sent a letter to federal court on Jan. 30, and another letter to Pompeo on March 22, urging him to intervene. The State Department had taken no official action in the case, according to court records.
Jones, in a statement, described a “seeming lack of action that had been taken from the State Department to provide any direction.”
Attorneys for the Peruvian plaintiffs have successfully argued the case should stay in Missouri, where they said the company operated a “command center” that made management decisions for the La Oroya smelter.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry, who is overseeing a case with about 1,400 plaintiffs, has repeatedly rejected attempts to move the case to Peru.
Fellow U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel, who is handling 1,600 claims, has cited Perry’s rulings in denying Doe Run a case transfer.