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Graves to step down as U.S. Attorney
He'll open his own law practice in downtown KC'

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Since surviving a battle with cancer as a college student, Todd Graves has gone through life checking off things he would regret if he didn't get them done.

Starting his own legal practice is on that list.

On Friday morning, Graves officially announced he is stepping down as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. The reason? You guessed it. . .he is ready to start that private practice.

"It's the farm kid in me," Graves told The Landmark last Thursday, a day before he publicly announced his decision to step down. "I value freedom and value having my own business.”

They say timing is everything. Graves says this has been his timeframe all along.

"I recently turned 40. I always planned to open my own practice. This has been my timetable," he said.

The decision to run his own law office means he will resist offers—some that would have tripled the salary he's making as the federal prosecutor—from large firms to bring his skills to their operations.

He said his law firm will be "a national practice." He'll focus on items such as governmental law, regulatory issues and civil litigation, among others.

Graves' practice will be located in downtown Kansas City, though he indicated he will seek a zoning change on his property in rural northern Platte County that will allow him to build an office at his home from which he will serve legal needs of "neighbors and friends.”

Graves and his wife Tracy and children Katie, Hank, Ben, and Joe live on a farm near Ridgely that has been in his family since 1867.

In addition to his own practice, Graves emphasized he will become very involved behind-the-scenes in local, state and national politics.

"I'm going to get very active in politics," he emphasized.

He ran unsuccessfully for Missouri State Treasurer in 2000, and though he said he has no immediate plans to become a candidate again, he said he is "not going to rule it out, either.”

Graves, a Republican, arrived on the Platte County political scene when he filed to run against eight-year incumbent Democrat Vic Peters for Platte County Prosecutor in 1994. Graves immediately turned heads when he was able to raise significantly more campaign cash than any other Platte County politician had ever raised.

He ran an aggressive campaign and convincingly ousted Peters, with Graves grabbing 12,862 votes to 10,511 for Peters, or 55% to 45%.

Graves quickly established a reputation as an aggressive county prosecutor. He ran unopposed for reelection in Platte County in 1998.

After George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, the opportunity for the U.S. Attorney spot opened up. U.S. Sen. Kit Bond officially supported Graves for the position and President Bush named him to the post.

Under his watch, the number of felony cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office increased from 500 per year to 1,000 this past year. Death penalty cases occurred with regularity under his leadership, as did illegal firearms prosecutions, and child abuse and child pornography cases.

Graves, who was appointed by then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to co-chair the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Working Group, made crimes against children the district's highest local priority. Graves launched the Computer Crimes and Child Exploitation Unit in 2002. Prior to the formation of the new unit, the district averaged about a dozen child exploitation cases per year. With 13 child exploitation cases filed so far this year, the district is on track to continue that upward trend.

The Western District of Missouri is recognized nationally for launching one of the first anti-gun violence programs, and one of the most successful. In 2004, the district led the nation in the prosecution of gun crimes, with 352 defendants charged with illegally possessing a firearm. That increased in 2005, with 373 defendants charged.

Overall, criminal prosecutions increased by 34% since Graves' first year as U.S. Attorney.

While his top priorities included those types of cases listed above, white collar crime also continued to be a focus of the federal office in his tenure. He pursued high profile cases involving phantom cattle and automobiles, telephone fraud, and mortgage fraud, among others.

Graves also brought charges against Jackson County lobbyist Bill Waris for lying to FBI agents, Pattonsburg School Superintendent Ronnie DeShon for embezzling district funds, and three Missouri judges, including one municipal judge in Kansas City who admitted taking loans from lawyers.

Graves in 2003 hit the courtroom to personally lead the death penalty prosecution of Wesley Purkey for the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Jennifer Long in 1998.

His resignation takes effect on March 24. He said the U.S. Justice Department has not appointed an interim replacement. That interim is often chosen from among the sitting U.S. Attorney's chief deputies.

President Bush will nominate a permanent replacement after consulting with Republican Senators Kit Bond and Jim Talent. The senators forward a name to the president. Typically the choice is the prerogative of the senior senator of the president's party, which would be Bond.

Graves said his only regret in leaving at this time is that he will not be able to participate in the prosecution of Lisa Montgomery, who is charged in the 2004 killing of Bobbie Jo Stinnett and the killing of her unborn daughter.

That crime occurred in Skidmore, which is only about 20 miles from where Graves' grew up near Tarkio. The case was recently delayed until October after originally scheduled for an April prosecution.

"It's a case that touches on a lot of personal things for me," he said.

Current Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd says he won't seek the position of U.S. Attorney.

"I'm not interested in being U.S. Attorney at this time," Zahnd said. "I am completely committed to running for reelection and continuing my work in Platte County. This is an important time for the Platte County Cyber Crimes Unit and our prosecutions of Jan Helder and countless other Internet predators. In addition, I am personally prosecuting Jacob McGinnis for a brutal first degree murder and rape, a case that goes to preliminary hearing in two weeks.”

In 2002, Zahnd defeated interim prosecutor Tammy Glick, a Democrat, to earn his first four year term. He has filed for reelection and thus far no Democrats have filed against him.

Following Graves' appointment as U.S. Attorney, Glick in the fall of 2001 had been named by then-Gov. Bob Holden, fellow Democrat, to fill the remainder of Graves' term. She served until being defeated by Zahnd in November of 2002 by 53% to 47%.


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