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Prosecutors not investigating Leath's plane use, despite inquiry

Iowa Attorney General's Office asked for records of aircraft damage

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By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

CEDAR FALLS — Story County prosecutors are not investigating Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s use of the institution’s aircraft even though an official with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office requested documents related to damage he caused to a plane.

On Sept. 23 — the day ISU released information about Leath’s plane use — Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand filed a records request with the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, where Leath experienced a hard landing in July 2015 and damaged the ISU plane he was piloting. The airport provided the records Sept. 26.

In a statement Wednesday, Board of Regents Executive Director Robert Donley said he and board leadership learned of that records request Sept. 29.

“The following morning, board counsel contacted the Attorney General’s Office and learned that information had been provided to a member of the Iowa Attorney General’s staff who made an open records request of the Bloomington airport without notifying anyone,” Donley said.

Geoff Greenwood, communications director for the Attorney General’s Office, said supervisors who oversee the area prosecutions division weren’t aware of Sand’s records request.

“Once they learned of it, they ensured that the office forwarded the information to the Story County Attorney, which has primary jurisdiction in Story County,” he said.

With “very rare exceptions,” Greenwood said, the office does not have original jurisdiction over criminal matters.

“Our office does not have jurisdiction unless it receives a referral from the county attorney,” he said. “That has not occurred is this matter.”

Donley said the board’s understanding is that “the Story County Attorney does not intend to investigate further.”

Leath has been criticized for frequently piloting an ISU-owned Cirrus SR22, including for four trips involving both university and personal business. In one of those instances, he experienced a hard landing that cost the university more than $17,000 in repair and storage.

Leath has since apologized, vowed not to fly the Cirrus again and donated to the ISU Foundation an amount covering the damage.

The Board of Regents is expected to discuss the issue during its meeting Thursday in Cedar Falls, and the board’s audit committee is taking up a review of travel and equipment use at all three public universities.

One regent, Subhash Sahai, has been critical of the board’s handling of the issue. In an Oct. 9 email made public Wednesday, Sahai expressed frustration to Regents President Bruce Rastetter and President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland.

“Silence from the regents who might have known as to what has been going on with present and past incidences of use/misuse of planes at ISU is deafening,” Sahai wrote. “President Leath cannot just say that, ‘I told the president of regents’ and be absolved of his responsibility.”

Sahai wrote that the handling of the issue could lead to bad perceptions.

“I feel some type of further inquiry and investigation is a must,” he wrote. “We are being perceived as neglectful of our obligations.”

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