By JASON HANCOCK
The federal government has seized two vehicles, and is threatening to seize a lake house, allegedly purchased illegally with COVID-19 relief money by a Kansas City-area businessman.
The property was seized from several real estate companies incorporated in Kansas by Joseph Campbell, with most operating under a version of the name Titan Fish.
According to a complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas, in early 2020 Campbell submitted 20 applications to the Small Business Administration for federal disaster loans made available under the CARES Act.
Most were deemed duplicates of other applications, the complaint says, and five were granted.
Campbell’s companies received nearly $1 million in aid that was supposed to be used to pay debts, payroll and other bills that could have been paid had the COVID-19 pandemic not occurred.
According to an affidavit filed by Richard Littrell, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, Campbell’s applications contained false information and he used the money he received to purchase two vehicles and a lake house in Morgan County, Missouri.
“Based on the information set forth in this affidavit, there is probable cause to believe Campbell committed violations of wire fraud and money laundering,” said Littrell, who conducts money laundering investigations as part of the Kansas City Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces.
Littrell later added that there is probable cause that the vehicles and property “were purchased with proceeds derived or obtained from the wire fraud violations.”
The two vehicles — a 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 and a 2017 Ford Explorer — have been seized by the government. The lake house has not yet been seized.
Campbell did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Danielle Thomas, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas, said she cannot comment on open cases beyond what is available in the public record.
Titan Fish, based in Shawnee, Kansas, is described on its website as “special situation investors that focus on unique investment opportunities in real estate, energy and other real assets.”
The company garnered attention in 2017 when it purchased the former Rockwood Golf Club in Independence for $550,000 from a company that had owned the property for several years.
Just months after that purchase, the Independence City Council voted to buy the golf course from Titan Fish for $1 million in order to use it to build a solar farm.
The deal drew FBI scrutiny over a series of donations to Independence Mayor Eileen Weir days before she voted to approve the purchase.
Those donations came from four political action committees connected to lobbyist Steve Tilley, a former state lawmaker and longtime friend and adviser to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.
Tilley’s lobbying firm represents Independence’s utility and the company chosen to operate the solar farm.
In 2019 Tilley began representing Titan Fish, and a year later was part of a proposal involving Titan Fish to repurpose a power plant owned by Independence.
Titan Fish and Tilley severed ties shortly after details of the proposal were made public.
Jason Hancock is editor of the Missouri Independent, an affiliate of States Newsroom. He has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star.