There’s an ongoing federal investigation involving wiretaps of five Wichitans, including prominent businessman Brandon Steven and Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell.
Steven said he thinks the investigation targeting him is related to his involvement in high-stakes poker and a failed attempt to open a casino in southeast Kansas.
Here’s some perspective on wiretapping in Kansas and nationwide, according to federal judicial data.
In 2015, there were 33 intercepts authorized for gambling investigations nationwide, according to federal data.
Five of those were in Kansas.
Five phones were tapped in 2015 in the Wichita investigation, based on recent federal notifications to people whose communications had been intercepted. The five whose cellphones were tapped are Brandon Steven, his brother Rodney Steven, Danny Chapman, Daven Flax and O’Donnell. It’s not clear whether the investigations are related or why the phones were tapped.
In 2015, judges authorized 33 wiretaps in Kansas: one in a conspiracy investigation; five regarding gambling; 24 relating to larceny, theft or robbery; and three for “other.” The average cost of each wiretap was $32,979.
In seeking a wiretap, authorities must spell out what crimes they think are being committed. Orders for a wiretap must be approved by a judge, but the orders are typically sealed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has opposed a motion by The Wichita Eagle seeking disclosure of the nature of the Wichita wiretaps.
The intercepts are limited to 30 days at a time and can be extended.
Federal data shows that 40 people had their communications in Kansas intercepted in 2015. There were 1,245 intercepts in Kansas that year, and 359 of those were labeled as “incriminating.”
From 2005 to 2015, the number of intercept applications requested and authorized grew significantly for state and federal investigations.
In 2015, all 4,148 applications for intercepts nationwide were granted, and the vast majority of those (3,969) were for portable devices, such as cellphones.
While the federal government does wiretaps, the state can also do them. The State of Kansas authorized one order for wiretapping in 2015.