Embattled Missouri House Speaker Plocher dismisses another top staffer

House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, claps as the Missouri House welcomes a guest on the first day of the 2024 Legislative Session (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, claps as the Missouri House welcomes a guest on the first day of the 2024 legislative session (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher fired his legislative director Wednesday, the latest in a series of departures from his office as he continues to face an ethics investigation into allegations of unlawful conduct. 

Erica Choinka had worked for the Missouri House since 2016, first as a legislative assistant and then as legislative director for former Speakers Elijah Haahr and Rob Vescovo. She continued to serve under Plocher until Wednesday, when she was fired. 

Choinka declined to comment, and a spokesman for Plocher did not immediately respond to an email about the dismissal. 

The staff shakeup follows the firing of Plocher’s chief of staff in October and the resignation of his chief legal counsel in November. And it comes as an ethics inquiry into his alleged misconduct enters its fourth month. 

The investigation was launched late last year after The Independent reported that Plocher on numerous occasions over the years illegally sought reimbursement from the legislature for airfare, hotels and other travel costs already paid for by his campaign. 

In each instance, Plocher was required to sign a sworn statement declaring that the payments were made with “personal funds, for which I have not been reimbursed.”

Plocher, a Republican from Des Peres running for lieutenant governor, has flatly denied any wrongdoing, chalking up the years of false expense reports to a “checkbook error.”

Also part of the ethics inquiry are allegations by the chief clerk of the House of potentially illegal and unethical conduct by Plocher in his unsuccessful push for the chamber to spend nearly $800,000 to hire a private company to manage constituent information. Plocher allegedly threatened to fire the clerk when she voiced concerns about the contract. 

The saga has garnered attention from federal law enforcement, with the FBI attending the September legislative hearing where the contract was discussed and voted down. The FBI, which investigates public corruption, has also interviewed several individuals about Plocher.

Asked Monday by reporters about the ongoing ethics inquiry, House Majority Leader Jon Patterson said he would withhold comment until the committee finishes its work. He said Plocher is “really focused on the job.”

“I think he’s doing the best he can with what he has,” said Patterson, a Lee’s Summit Republican, “and you know, we’re all just waiting on the ethics report to see what it shows.”

The 10-member ethics committee is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Proceedings of the committee are confidential, and none of the discussions, testimony or evidence gathered is public until a report is issued. 

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