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Prosecutors from other Kansas counties asked to assist after Marion newspaper raid

Prosecutors outside of Marion, Kansas, will likely be involved in cases that emerge from the local police department’s August raid of the Marion County Record.

Riley County District Attorney Barry Wilkerson told The Star Monday he has been contacted about the Marion case and agreed to help. Johnson County Attorney Steve Howe, Wilkerson said, has also been contacted.

Howe’s office declined to comment.

“We’re still in the early stages of investigation,” Wilkerson said adding that he had not yet been appointed as a special prosecutor and could not speak to the details of the investigation or his role.

Wilkerson said he had spoken with Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey about the case.

But when asked who had initially contacted him, Wilkerson declined to answer and referred The Star to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which declined to comment.

Involvement of outside prosecutors indicates forward movement on the investigation as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has begun interviewing Marion residents on behalf of the KBI.

The probe began in August after, Gideon Cody, then the Marion police chief, obtained search warrants for the newspaper, Marion County Record editor and publisher Eric Meyer’s home and the home of Marion city councilwoman Ruth Herbel. The search warrants were withdrawn within days amid widespread condemnation of Cody, who resigned weeks later.

The KBI took the lead in the investigation shortly after the searches. Since then, investigators have offered little information on the probe’s progress or targets.

Meyer spoke to investigators for the first time in an interview with CBI agents Friday.

During the interview, Meyer told The Star, CBI agents told him they were looking into the process that led to the search warrants and would deliver their report to Wilkerson.

“They’re doing a very thorough investigation, it seems,” Meyer said. “Basically they wanted to know the whole backstory.”

Before the searches, the Record had been investigating Cody’s tenure at the Kansas City Police Department, where he was facing possible disciplinary action before he left this past spring for Marion. In applying for the search warrants, Cody wrote that he was investigating alleged identity theft of local restaurant owner Kari Newell after a reporter looked up her driver’s license records — which are public records — on a state database.

Meyer said agents told him a separate report from the KBI would delve into whether Record and others broke laws when they accessed Newell’s driving records.

Because any alleged crimes took place within Marion County, Ensey, the local prosecutor, would typically handle the cases himself.

Ensey, however, faces a potential conflict of interest. Ensey’s sister-in-law owns Marion’s Historic Elgin Hotel, where Newell works and had sought a liquor license before her driving records were accessed.

In a legal filing, Cody said he sent the warrant applications to Ensey for review and that the prosecutor later claimed to have never read them.

Ensey withdrew the search warrants days after they were served, saying they lacked sufficient evidence.

The Star’s Jonathan Shorman contributed to this report.