Former state legislator finally pays $70K fine for campaign finance violations
A former state legislator from Shepherd who was jailed last year for refusing to cooperate with authorities regarding his involvement in a political corruption scandal has finally paid a $70,000 penalty for campaign finance violations.
Jeff Mangan, the state Commissioner of Political Practices, announced Monday that Wesley Prouse had turned in a payment of $70,211.99 to satisfy the civil penalty and judgment entered against him in a case brought by the commissioner’s office in 2014.
Prouse was one of nine Republican legislative candidates accused of taking illegal contributions from the National Right to Work Committee or its affiliates in the 2010 election. Under Montana law, candidates cannot accept contributions from corporations, and they must report all in-kind contributions they receive.
District Judge James Reynolds determined that Prouse received $9,100 in illegal in-kind support and did not report $321 in cash contributions.
Although the payment did resolve the state’s case against Prouse, Mangan also noted that Prouse “is still prohibited from running for public office until such time that he corrects his 2010 campaign finance reports, to disclose $9,421 in campaign contributions and expenditures.”
After Prouse was charged with the campaign violations in 2014, he failed to respond to the charges and or to appear in court, so a default judgment was filed against him in 2015. He was fined $59,066, which then grew at the rate of 10 percent a year.
Gene Jarussi, a Billings lawyer working as a special prosecutor for the commissioner’s, obtained a writ of execution to remove $2,267.23 from Prouse’s bank account, but when a second writ was issued, Jarussi found out Prouse’s bank account had been closed.
Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses ordered Prouse to produce documents showing all his debts and assets, for a “debtor’s exam,” in which the court has the debtor come in and list all his debts and assets, under oath.
Prouse continued to ignore the judge’s orders and was found in contempt last August, when he was jailed for several days. After that, he finally retained a lawyer, Quentin Rhoades of Missoula, and there were many months of back-and-forth communications between Jarussi, Rhoades and the commissioner’s office.
Jarussi said there were other delays, some attributable to his time conflicts of his own, but earlier this month, on April 5, Moses held a hearing on another motion to have Prouse jailed for failure to cooperate with the court.
At that hearing, Moses told Prouse that he “should be extremely concerned” about the testimony he delivered that day and about his failure to produce the requested documents. Moses said then that Prouse had 10 more days to produce the documents.
“If you don’t, Mr. Prouse, I’m going to issue another warrant,” Moses said at the hearing. “And that warrant is for one purpose and one purpose only. You are going to sit in the Yellowstone County Detention Center until your counsel or someone at your direction can obtain those documents and provide them.”
It was not clear from the press release from Mangan’s office why the penalty was paid Monday, a week after the deadline set by Moses.