Longtime Independence lawyer and political operative indicted on federal tax evasion

John C. Carnes, an Independence lawyer and longtime political operative, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on two felonies related to tax evasion.

Carnes, 67, is charged with felony tax evasion and felony obstruction along with six misdemeanor counts of failure to pay income tax, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday afternoon. The federal indictment against Carnes was handed down Tuesday and made public following his arrest Wednesday morning.

After an initial court appearance in the Western District of Missouri Kansas City, Carnes was released on bond.

Federal prosecutors allege Carnes avoided paying income taxes between 2012 and 2018. He is also accused of attempting to hide his tax liability by keeping money for personal expenses in an attorney trust, a financial account intended to be used solely for representation of clients.

Carnes owes at least $343,469 in back taxes for the years between 2012 and 2018, authorities allege.

Reached by phone Wednesday evening for comment, Carnes said: “I’ve always represented my clients aggressively and successfully within ethical boundaries.

“The FBI has been investigating me for over 30 years,” Carnes said. “And I’m 67 years old, and they had to come up with something before I passed on.

They have come up with something, and we’ll go to court and see what that something is.”

Carnes, a former Jackson County legislator and member of the Independence City Council, has been involved in legal trouble before.

In 1989, he pleaded guilty to paying a bribe to a member of the Independence City Council for the official’s support of a zoning matter involving a shopping center. He also admitted to giving false information on a bank loan in 1987.

Sentenced to five years in prison, Carnes served two before his release on parole in 1991. His Missouri law license was revoked and later reinstated in 2006.

Despite his legal problems, Carnes has remained a force in Independence politics for decades.

According to Wednesday’s indictment, Carnes deposited $232,000 in fees received for services provided through the former Rockwood Golf Course and the Missouri City Power Plant into his attorney trust accounts. Authorities allege that was done in an attempt to prevent the IRS from collecting money Carnes owed on income taxes.

The Rockwood Golf Course and Missouri City Power Plant projects have been sources of controversy in Independence City Hall. And the indictment announced Wednesday comes years after The Star first reported that the FBI was asking questions about controversial deals involving Independence’s municipal government.

In May 2020, The Star reported that a federal grand jury subpoenaed minutes of the closed meetings of the Independence City Council in which the body discussed the fate of the Missouri City Power Plant.

Expense reimbursements sought by the FBI showed that two former council members, Curt Dougherty and Tom Van Camp, met more than a dozen times for taxpayer-funded meals at various local restaurants to discuss city business between October 2015 and February 2017, when Missouri City was put out for bid. That included a meeting with Carnes on July 18, 2016, at Independence’s Café Verona.

The decommissioning of that coal-fired electric-plant, owned by the city’s utility company, attracted controversy because of the decision by a majority of the City Council to award a contract to a firm called Environmental Operations, which bid $9.75 million to do the project. Another company, Commercial Liability Partners, submitted a bid for $4.45 million.

Environmental Operations had political connections: Its general counsel was former Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, who resigned in 2015 for sending sexually charged text messages to an intern.

The city has faced similar controversies over other energy projects.

In 2020, a collection of businesses led by Titan Fish Partners LLC submitted a proposal to repurpose the Blue Valley Municipal Power Generating Plant in northeast Independence into a biofuels production facility. Titan Fish is led by Kansas investor Joe Campbell. Also included in the proposal was Steve Tilley, a statehouse lobbyist and former Missouri House speaker who is a longtime friend and adviser to Gov. Mike Parson.

In 2017, the city council voted to purchase the former Rockwood Golf Club for nearly $1 million from Titan Fish, just months after it had purchased the property for $550,000 from a company that had owned the closed golf course for several years. It has since developed a solar farm on the site.

The money used to purchase the golf club came from another Tilley lobbying client, the city’s utility, Independence Power & Light.