KBI questioning sheds new light on raid
Two weeks after police searched the Marion County Record, seizing computers and cell phones, two central figures in the investigation that prompted the illegal raid have for the first time been interviewed by authorities.
Both confirmed that the document Marion police said they were looking for in the raid came from them, not from any attempt at identity theft.
Restaurateur Kari Newell’s estranged husband, Ryan, said he told a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Friday that he had given information about his wife’s driving record to friend Pam Maag.
Maag said she told KBI special agent Todd Leeds on Thursday that she had supplied the information to the Record and to Marion Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel.
Neither Ryan Newell nor Maag had been interviewed before Marion police and sheriff’s deputies raided the newspaper, Herbel’s home, and the home of newspaper co-owners Eric and Joan Meyer even though Police Chief Gideon Cody acknowledged in search warrant applications that Maag was whom Herbel had said supplied the information.
In an interview with Leeds, Maag admitted she gave Record reporter Phyllis Zorn and Herbel a copy of a letter indicating that Kari Newell didn’t have a valid driver’s license and would need to have an anti-drinking interlock device installed in her vehicle to get a license.
The letter was at the center of search warrants Cody requested, alleging that a Record reporter had accessed Kari Newell’s information illegally.
Kari Newell, who owns Chef’s Plate at Parlour 1886 in the Historic Elgin Hotel and Kari’s Kitchen, a coffee shop across the street, had been driving without a license after a 2008 DUI conviction.
Kari Newell has not disputed that she had been driving illegally without a license.
At an Aug. 7 city council meeting, Kari Newell got up during public comment — after Mayfield prompted her by saying her first name — and heatedly accused the Record of giving Herbel the letter.
“It was brought to my attention today that my private and personal information that was illegally obtained by a local reporter was shared it with council member Ruth Herbel,” Kari Newell said. “Ruth then took it upon herself to share that information with others.”
It is unknown who brought it to her attention.
Although she accused a Record reporter — not naming the reporter — of a crime, Kari Newell told Eric Meyer minutes after the meeting that she thought it had come from Maag.
Kari Newell also accused Herbel of acting “negligently and recklessly” by sharing information with others in a malicious way.
Herbel has said the only person she shared information with was Jones.
From the back of the council meeting room, Meyer at one point interrupted Kari Newell. Mayfield called for order and told Meyer he didn’t have the floor and could speak after Kari Newell if he wished to do so.
Herbel emailed Jones Aug. 4, about Kari Newell was seeking a catering liquor license.
Kari Newell has publicly admitted she had been driving without a license since a 2008 conviction for drunken driving. She got a new license Aug. 8, one day after the city council meeting.
A check of records Tuesday showed that the Elgin’s drinking establishment license was valid through Tuesday. Hotel co-owner Tammy Ensey carries that license.
A check of a catering liquor license in Marion County found only one — Marion City Council member Zach Collett.
Jones forwarded Herbel’s email to Mayor David Mayfield and City Clerk Janet Robinson.
In his email, he said that Kari Newell’s driver’s license status was a state matter, and that the city — specifically the police chief and police department — would not get involved.
This apparently changed after Mayfield and Cody met that afternoon.
Who brought the falsely alleged identify theft to Kari Newell’s attention Aug. 7 remains unknown, but people would had knowledge that day included Cody, Mayfield, Robinson, and Jones.
Leeds told Maag he was the agent interviewing her because he works out of Mulvane, not Marion County.
Maag told the Record he asked whether she had accessed the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System — a completely separate and confidential database than the public website actually used — to acquire information about Kari Newell’s driver’s license.
Maag is a former Wamego and Waubunsee County dispatcher. Her husband, Roger, is a former Kansas Highway Patrol trooper.
“I didn’t access CJIS,” Maag reiterated in an interview with the Record.
Accessing the system requires a token, Maag said.
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach suggested at a news conference the possibility that someone accessed the confidential system.
KBI was asked to join the investigation in part because of questions about possible illegal access of the database.
The actual site used is one that the operator, the Kansas Department of Revenue, has said is free and open for the general public to use.
Kari Newell said in social media posts, which she later deleted, that she drove without a license “out of necessity” because she had to get children to school and herself to work.
Maag, who admitted to being pulled over for drunken driving in 2004 but wasn’t convicted, contends Kari Newell thinks she’s above the law.
“My closet isn’t clean,” Maag told the Record in an initial interview with a reporter, sharing that she had been stopped for drunken driving and had written bad checks.
Kari Newell filed for divorce Jan. 31 from her estranged husband, Ryan Newell.
Her attorney from Kansas Legal Services of Emporia — a court-appointed attorney because Kari Newell apparently couldn’t afford a private attorney — filed a motion for a temporary order that she would have possession of a Toyota Rav4 she drives, even though Ryan Newell would continue to make payments.
Ryan Newell expressed concern about his wife driving a vehicle he makes payments on without a license.
He also pays insurance for the vehicle.
In a motion March 7 to modify the temporary order, Ryan Newell’s attorney said Kari Newell should be “responsible for any damage, towing, repairs, and any other maintenance of the Toyota Rav4.”
The attorney, Eric Kidwell of Wichita, added another condition: “that the parties refrain from posting the details of the case on any social media.”
Kari Newell regularly blasts people and businesses on social media — including the Record on multiple occasions.
After the raid and the death of Joan Meyer, who worked at the paper for decades, Kari Newell deleted most of her posts.
Before she did so, however, she wrote that “I am not the Gestapo” and that she didn’t know Cody planned to search the Record, Joan and Eric Meyer’s home, and Herbel’s home.
Law enforcement seized computer equipment and cell phones from all three locations.
The raids so upset Joan Meyer that she died the next day.
A friend of Kari Newell’s — Melody Bryson — has vigorously defended her on social media, including on the Record’s Facebook page, criticizing what she called a “P.O.S.” paper and saying it didn’t matter that Kari Newell didn’t have a license.
The friend also falsely claimed that Joan Meyer had been in hospice and hospitals for the past two months.
Kari Newell has told other newspapers and Joan Meyer’s niece, Elizabeth Moore, that she was saddened by Joan Meyer’s death.
Moore stayed at the Elgin while she was in town for her aunt’s funeral Aug. 19 at Valley United Methodist Church, across the street from the hotel.
Hotel owner Tammy Ensey and manager Jennifer McDonald were “lovely” to her, Moore said.
She said the Elgin itself didn’t deserve to be bashed because of Kari Newell.
Kari Newell, she said, was at her coffee shop, saw Moore, and crossed 3rd St. to talk to her. Kari Newell told Moore she was upset about Joan Meyer’s death, Moore said.
Kari Newell also said in a Kansas City Star story published online Monday that she had no intention of going anywhere, or bending to critics.
“You can knock me down, but you can’t kick me out,” she told a Star reporter.
“I said thank you,” Moore told Kari Newell after the small business owner said she was upset about the death of Joan Meyer, the longtime matriarch of the Record newsroom.
Friends have built a shrine to Joan Meyer in front of the 154-year-old newspaper’s 3rd St. front building, across from the Marion County courthouse.
Police entered the back door — used primarily by employees of the paper — to search and seize computer equipment and personal cell phones of two reporters.
“She’s crying these crocodile tears, and then she started up,” Moore said. “ She told me, ‘You just don’t understand what the Record did to me. Phyllis downloaded all this information about me illegally.’
“I just stood there and looked at her. I could not believe she was trying to make me feel sorry for her.
“I was absolutely incredulous.”
Last modified Aug. 31, 2023