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District attorney clears Craig Gabel in campaign, threat probes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, August 1, 2013, at 3:04 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, August 1, 2013, at 3:13 p.m.

Wichita restaurateur Craig Gabel will not face criminal charges on allegations that he violated campaign law and threatened the Wichita City Council.

District Attorney Marc Bennett announced his findings Thursday afternoon in a written news release.

The campaign allegations were filed by Gabel’s opponents in the primary race for the District 4 City Council seat. The threat allegation was passed on by Wichita Director of Law Gary Rebenstorf at the behest of some council members.

Gabel could not be reached Thursday afternoon for comment.

Bennett found no wrongdoing in a coupon for a chicken fried steak meal at Mike’s Steakhouse, Gabel’s restaurant, printed on the opposite side of a palm card for Gabel’s unsuccessful bid for City Council.

Bennett found the palm card itself to be in “substantial compliance” with Kansas law, but noted that placing the food ad on the opposite side of a political advertisement is “not directly addressed in Kansas statute and appears to be without explicit precedent in Kansas case law.”

He found that the meal discount was tied only to the purchase of a drink and did not require support of Gabel’s candidacy.

But Bennett noted that the palm card did create “an unclear association of one entity (Mike’s Steakhouse) with the Gabel political campaign.”

“Because the public policy of Kansas as expressed through our laws is to make transparent the relationships between political campaigns and those who provide advertising support and certain levels of financial support, it would be advisable for Mr. Gabel and any future candidate to more clearly disassociate and distinguish all non-political/business advertisements from political advertisements.

Bennett also found that Gabel’s campaign did not violate campaign finance laws.

However, Bennett noted several mistakes on Gabel’s campaign finance filings — the listing of the $45 filing fee to run for office as an in-kind contribution, the listing of a personal $2,000 campaign loan from Gabel to the campaign as a donation and a $4,000 contribution listed as advertising sales.

“Receipts provided during the investigation also show that several of the expenses incurred by the Gabel campaign were paid for initially by (the management company for Mike’s Steakhouse), which in turn billed the campaign at a later date for the expenditures,” Bennett wrote.

That created two problems complicating the investigation, Bennett wrote — the campaign invoices were paid at the same time as business invoices, and any payment of a political expense by a third party is considered a loan.

“In short,” Bennett wrote, “the investigation revealed several errors, discrepancies and oversights, all of which Mr. Gabel acknowledged.

“Mr. Gabel reports he is in the process of correcting discrepancies that can be corrected by preparing to file amended forms with the Governmental Ethics Commission.”

The district attorney also found that a comment to “shoot on sight” in a Wichita Post article directed at the city council was “sarcastic.” Gabel owns the Post.

The article, blasting city plans for massive fines for big water users, included a stock photograph of policemen placing barricades on an unidentified city street. Its caption read, “Not to keep people out but to keep the crazy and insane in so they don’t infect the general population. Maybe even a shoot on sight order would be advisable.”

Bennett found that the shooters referenced in the caption were police, who Gabel intended to imply were controlled by the city council.

“Rather than a call to violence to the general public, the comments appeared to have been intended as a sarcastic statement suggesting police be given the fictionalized order, in order to emphasize the author’s discontent with the council’s action,” Bennett wrote.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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