The progressive Democrat, who was then about to be re-elected to her third term as the county's CEO, was known as much for her aggressive and controlling style as she was for her liberal causes. If she had a tendency to hire friends and punish enemies, her record promoting the arts and anti-discrimination policies made her seem nearly invincible, at least among Jackson County's liberal Democrats, and a popular choice to succeed Kay Barnes someday as Kansas City's mayor.
But today, not so much. Speculation these days isn't about whether she can take over the city. Usually it's about whether she can avoid a criminal indictment.
Shields' crown has lost much of its luster after a long and public feud with County Prosecutor Michael Sanders and the shadow cast by a yearlong federal investigation of county contracting practices.
In November a close Shields ally, former County Executive Bill Waris, was indicted in the federal probe, and he faces trial later this year. The story of Waris' indictment was an above-the-fold front page story in The Kansas City Star.
But the nature of Waris' alleged crime was so arcane and difficult to explain -- the Star's few stories on it have described the matter with all the clarity of fine print on a medication pamphlet --that it almost immediately disappeared as a news story.
Only one thing seemed clear: Shields herself was involved in the Waris matter, even if the U.S. Attorney's Office had taken pains to keep her name out of Waris' indictment.
For months now, journalists and other observers have waited for the other shoe to drop and wondered if an indictment for Shields herself is next. And that curiosity has apparently kept local media from explaining how Shields found herself in this mess at all.
The surprising answer to that question is that she may have only her own controlling ways to blame.
Under the powerful reign of Shields, her friends benefited greatly. While critics howled, the county executive assigned friends and campaign employees to numerous county jobs and tangled publicly with legislators and others who questioned her appointments.
John Bondon, for example, is the sort of person who benefited from Shields at her most ascendant.
From across a room, Bondon's most distinguishing characteristic is his hair, a gray and black mass of steel wool circling his receding hairline like a halo. But up close, it's his glib patter and ready handshake that define him, and those assets have helped to make him successful in positions that reward his powers of persuasion.
For 35 years, Bondon ran the former Italian Gardens restaurant downtown. And for 12 years, ending last August, Bondon also filled one of the more visible posts in local government as a member of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority.
First appointed to the body in 1992, Bondon was reappointed to a second five-year term in 1997, when Shields was county executive. The two were once tight. He donated to her campaigns. She supported his continued presence on the Sports Authority.
Bondon loved the role, particularly as the Sports Authority's chairman, a position he held twice for a total of about five years. The quintessential host, he took obvious pleasure in greeting guests at the door of the Sports Authority's suite at Arrowhead Stadium and jawing over the complimentary barbecue and sodas.
The Sports Authority was created when the Truman Sports Complex was built in 1972, and its five-member board serves as landlord for Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums and their acres of parking. The authority was designed, in part, to distance the running of the facilities from the often bitter politics of the County Legislature itself.
But serving on it has fringe benefits. Sports Authority members have access to free tickets and special suites, which are used to schmooze city, county and state politicians who have power over stadium budgets.
In most years, the Sports Authority's business is uncontroversial, and its members' most taxing chore is glad-handing. And in that role, Bondon excelled. He knew everyone of consequence in the city through his restaurant and his connection to the Berbiglia liquor-store chain. (His mother's second husband was Mike Berbiglia, the company's founder. The business is now run by Bondon's brothers.) During most of his tenure, Bondon presided over a remarkably unified Sports Authority. He can recall only a handful of votes during his stint that weren't unanimous.
But if Bondon seemed to have the right connections and qualities to run the Sports Authority smoothly, he also learned what it was like to go from being one of Shields' favored subjects to one of her enemies.
As the summer of 2003 arrived and an election crucial to Shields drew near, it became clear that the Sports Authority would need to raise its profile. The following year would see a vote on the Bistate II proposal, which would attempt to raise taxes in both Kansas and Missouri to pay for expensive overhauls at the stadiums and for metro-area arts projects. But perhaps more important to Shields, the measure would allow her to lock the teams into new, 25-year leases with the county. Passage would require a huge effort, particularly from the chairman of the Sports Authority. But Bondon had already done poorly promoting the measure, failing to get backing from such key supporters as Johnson County bigwig Steve Rose and Kansas City lawyer Jack Craft.
Shields let Bondon know that she wanted someone else to lead the Bistate II effort in Bondon's place. Her choice was former Kansas City Mayor Richard Berkley. Berkley had served before as a commissioner on the Sports Authority, from 1997 to 2001.
Bringing Berkley in meant taking Bondon out. "She asked me to get off it and let Dick take over," Bondon tells the Pitch.
Suddenly, he says, her attitude about him changed completely. "Instead of coming up to me and hugging me and kissing me all the time, there was this distancing," he says. Shields' attitude change came soon after Bondon became involved in a company that counseled drug addicts. Earlier, he says, she'd encouraged his involvement in the counseling company, ADAPT (Alcohol, Drug-Abuse Prevention and Treatment), which was considering making a bid for taxpayer funding through the county's COMBAT-funded (Community-Based Anti-Drug Tax) anti-drug program. But even though the Sports Authority is technically a state body, Shields suggested to Bondon that his involvement in ADAPT might constitute a conflict of interest.
"She wanted me to get out of the business," Bondon recalls. "She said, 'It will affect Bistate.'"
Bondon failed to see the connection.
"Right then was when I realized something wasn't right," Bondon says. "One day, she trusts me 100 percent. Six months later, it's something else."
But in order to have Berkley supplant Bondon as Sports Authority chairman, Shields first needed to get Berkley onto the commission, which involved some political hoop-jumping. Normally, county legislators -- not the county executive -- nominate candidates when openings on the Sports Authority come up, then vote to send three names to Missouri's governor. The governor chooses one name from the panel, then forwards it for confirmation to the state Senate.
With nine legislators and only three nominating slots available each time a vacancy comes up, over the years an informal etiquette had developed, with legislators taking turns assembling the panels. This time, in the fall of 2003, it would be legislator Dan Tarwater's turn to coordinate the slate forwarded to then-Governor Bob Holden.
And Tarwater wanted to nominate a friend named Dan Nugent.
Dan Nugent, who has served on the Jackson County Republican Committee, and his wife, Cathy, a prodigious Republican fund-raiser and consultant in her own right, had helped Tarwater and his wife, Paula, adopt a child.
According to grand jury testimony, Shields was aware that Tarwater planned to send Nugent's name to Governor Holden in October 2003. But Shields had other plans. She had her own list of three names she wanted on the list sent to Holden, including Berkley, whom she wanted the governor to choose.
Tarwater was outmaneuvered, testimony suggests. But in order to throw him a bone, Shields offered to give the Nugents a consolation prize. Early in October, Tarwater and Shields placed a phone call to Cathy Nugent. Also listening in on the county's side of the conference call was Bill Waris, a former county executive.
When Cathy Nugent picked up the phone and realized who it was, she asked her co-worker Connie Cierpiot, a former Republican state representative, to listen in.
With five people in on the phone call, Shields is reported to have asked Cathy Nugent to accept a $12,000 county contract to raise money for the Fort Osage Historical Society.
County rules allow Shields to hand out professional-services contracts without approval from the Legislature. It was a powerful privilege of her job. Waris was the beneficiary of his own professional-services contract bestowed by Shields -- as the county's Jefferson City lobbyist, a job that paid $56,000 a year.
The professional-services contract that Shields is supposed to have offered Cathy Nugent would have required no approval from the legislature. But there was more to the offer. Shields wanted something in return. She reportedly asked Cathy Nugent to make sure that her husband, Dan, didn't accept a nomination to be on the slate of names that would be forwarded later that month to Holden for the spot on the Sports Authority.
To three people who remember the conversation, the quid pro quo was plain -- Shields offered taxpayer cash to Cathy Nugent to ask her husband to withdraw his intention to seek a public position.
Days after the conversation, on October 17, three names were forwarded to Holden for his consideration.
Dan Nugent was not one of them.
Holden was asked to consider Berkley, KC Southern CEO Warren Erdman and Country Club Bank CEO Mark Thompson.
Holden chose Berkley, who formally joined the Sports Authority on October 30.
The fall of 2003 was a heady time to join the Sports Authority. The Kansas City Chiefs were enjoying one of their all-time best seasons, culminating with their final regular-season game, a 31-3 home blowout of the Chicago Bears on December 28. Among the 78,413 in attendance was Sports Authority Executive Director John Friedmann, who had been the day-to-day paid director of the body since 1990.
On his way home from Sunday home games, the 71-year-old normally headed for a downtown gym, but after this game he stopped at Russell's Car Wash, off Interstate 70 and Van Brunt Boulevard, to clean his Honda Accord. Police believe that was when he was accosted by 18-year-old Tyrone Tucker, who, in an attempt to rob Friedmann, hit him over the head and blasted him with a shotgun. Police say Tucker then fled, but not before taking Friedmann's wallet and his Chiefs jacket.
Friedmann was never able to speak to detectives, but he clung to life for nearly two weeks before succumbing to his wounds on January 9. A week later, police located Tucker in Detroit. He's been charged with second-degree murder, armed criminal action and attempted robbery. His trial is still pending.
Friedmann was buried in his native Minnesota a few days after his death. But a Kansas City memorial service was held on February 10, 2004, at Redemptorist Church on Broadway.
The large crowd comprised many of the city's power elite, including Shields.
One of Friedmann's eulogies was delivered by John Bondon, who, despite Shields' wishes, was still chairman of the Sports Authority.
In his eulogy, Bondon recounted how Friedmann had been the behind-the-scenes force that maintained Kauffman and Arrowhead as national treasures, how he kept the complex running without ever raising his voice, how he treated everyone with respect.
Afterward, Bondon accepted warm thanks for the eulogy from many people. One of them was octogenerian Jimmy Duardi, a longtime regular at Bondon's restaurant (which, coincidentally, had closed after 78 years of business on December 29, the day after Friedmann was attacked).
Duardi, linked to the Civella crime family, was sentenced in 1985 to eight years in federal prison for extortion. Bondon explains that, although Duardi speaks to him like he was a member of his family, calling him his nephew, the close relationship is just something that grew out of their long acquaintanceship at Italian Gardens.
While they spoke, Bondon was approached by Dan Tarwater, who offered his thanks for the eulogy. Bondon introduced the county legislator to Duardi.
"'Take care of my nephew,'" Bondon recalls Duardi saying. "'He's not very bright,' or something like that."
Bondon remembers the conversation as a low-key exchange in the middle of a crowded room. He says he had his arm around Tarwater, who eventually made his exit, apparently unruffled.
Tarwater himself told the Independence Examiner later that he didn't feel threatened by the remark.
But within a week of the funeral, the conversation had taken on a life of its own in county political circles. Bondon began hearing that he'd used his "mob connections" to try and shake down Tarwater for county money at Friedmann's memorial service.
The timing of the exchange may have contributed to the gossip. The day before the service, Tarwater and the rest of the County Legislature had voted to award some of the funds generated by the COMBAT tax to a couple of addiction-counseling companies. The vote appeared to be a snub of ADAPT.
In fact, ADAPT's board had decided not to ask to be considered for the COMBAT money, none of which came up in the Tarwater-Duardi exchange, Bondon says.
"It was a done deal," Bondon says. "We hadn't bid on it. That was what was so strange. Nothing was mentioned about the COMBAT contract. It was never brought up."
He says he dismissed the rumors as exaggeration. But what happened next took him totally by surprise, he says.
In a March 7 KMBZ 980 radio broadcast, Katheryn Shields told host Mike Shanin that Tarwater had been threatened and offered a bribe.
"He was approached by Bondon and another individual," Shields said. "The other individual basically kept poking him repeatedly in the chest and threatening, saying to him, 'You're not taking care of my nephew, Johnny. You need to take better care of him.' Then the individual basically offered Mr. Tarwater a bribe to reconsider."
"Mr. Bondon was not a participant in this chest-pushing episode?" Shanin asked.
"He was standing there when it was occurring," Shields said. "It happened in front of him. Whether he orchestrated it occurring or not, I don't know."
Bondon says he was not contacted by 980 to respond to what Shields alleged.
But then Shields dropped her real bombshell: Several days earlier, she told Shanin, she had asked the federal government to investigate.
At the time, Shields was in the midst of a war of words with Michael Sanders, the county prosecutor. Allegations were flying over Shields' awarding of professional-services contracts, and both sides were making pointed attacks about perceived misuses of the COMBAT funds. The day after the Friedmann funeral, Sanders announced that he intended to pursue an audit of the COMBAT revenues -- he said he was troubled by cuts to COMBAT-funded initiatives while there was supposed to be a $10 million surplus raised by the tax.
Shields countered that Sanders was trying to maneuver COMBAT contracts to friends and relatives, including Bondon's counseling company, ADAPT, a charge that both Bondon and Sanders deny.
Bondon points out that there was a connection between Sanders and ADAPT. But he says it was an innocent one: Sanders had hired away one of Bondon's best employees.
Bondon had started the company only the year before, in June 2003, when he joined partners Calvin Williford and Oak Grove physician Steve Gialde, who provided 95 percent of the company's funding. The trio purchased a local company for about $500,000 and reorganized under the new name.
At the time, Bondon says, Shields was supportive. And the company started fast -- very soon, it was taking in more than $40,000 a month, primarily from court referrals. None of that money, however, came from the COMBAT tax.
Sanders soon became a fan of Bondon's venture. "We thought ADAPT was frankly one of the best companies, clearly within the top two or three," he tells the Pitch. "I thought they had an unlimited future."
Sanders even recruited an ADAPT employee for his own staff, hiring Joe Reed to serve as drug-court administrator. "Everybody said Joe Reed is the guy you ought to hire," Sanders says. Another ADAPT employee, Lisa Honn, now serves as Sanders' executive assistant.
ADAPT's future looked bright. But after several months of brisk business, the court referrals began to slow.
Some former ADAPT employees blame personnel changes; others say the Shields-Sanders feud made the company too controversial. But for whatever reason, ADAPT was dwindling. In June 2004, Gialde would pull the plug.
In March, however, the company was still very much in the middle of the squabble between the county's two most powerful politicians.
And Bondon says Shields had already made her displeasure with him plain, telling him that she wanted him to quit the Sports Authority so Berkley could become chairman.
To Bondon, it was clear that Shields had conflated several things in her mind -- Bondon; his "mob" uncle, Duardi; the comment to Tarwater; questions about Bondon's company, ADAPT; and his connection to Sanders, her bitter enemy.
Shields announced in a statement to the County Legislature that she'd asked the FBI to look into allegations of corruption in Jackson County involving COMBAT money in particular. She didn't name specific allegations, but it didn't take much familiarity with the squabbles consuming county politics to suspect where she hoped the FBI would turn its attention: Sanders, Bondon and ADAPT.
"It was shortly thereafter that I got a call from [FBI special agent Robert] Schaefer," Bondon tells the Pitch. (Bondon declined to discuss his grand jury testimony.)
"This investigation started," Schaefer would testify eight months later, "when allegations were made that certain county officials were steering COMBAT contracts to friends, relatives, political supporters in exchange for some type of political favors."
But only a few weeks after Shields announced that she had called in the G-men, investigators turned their attention to Shields herself.
Word had reached Schaefer about the October five-way telephone call in which Shields had reportedly offered Cathy Nugent $12,000.
Shields, Schaefer was told, had offered a bribe.
In testimony he gave in November, Schaefer said he was preparing a case that Katheryn Shields should be indicted criminally on bribery charges when Bill Waris was brought before the western Missouri federal grand jury on April 21.
Schaefer testified that the three other people who had taken part in the October conference call -- Tarwater, Nugent and Cierpiot -- had all characterized the phone call in the same way. It was obvious after speaking to them, Schaefer testified, that Shields had offered the $12,000 professional-services contract not because she really wanted Cathy Nugent to raise money for the Fort Osage Historical Society but because she wanted Nugent to convince her husband, Dan, not to allow his name to be put on the slate for consideration for the Sports Authority. (The U.S. Attorney's Office has said that Tarwater --who made the call with Shields --is not a target of the investigation.)
Schaefer also testified that later that October night, after the conference call, Waris personally dropped in on the Nugents to repeat this offer, this time to both Cathy and Dan Nugent. According to Schaefer, when the Nugents objected, saying they didn't feel right about the offer, Waris replied, "Well, you don't understand. You really don't have to do anything for this $15,000." (The amount of the contract, $12,000, also could include additional money earned as a portion of the fund-raising.) Schaefer testified that the Nugents were repulsed by the offer and that they turned it down.
Bill Waris has been involved in Jackson County politics since the 1970s. He was on the County Legislature from 1979 to 1983, before serving eight years as county executive.
Waris generally gets credit for saving the Royals for Kansas City in 1989. At the time, Royals owner Ewing Kauffman had signed over half the team to Avron Fogelman. But Fogelman's real estate fortune crashed, sending him toward bankruptcy. There was a possibility that the team would be up for grabs. In marathon negotiating sessions, Waris crafted long-term leases with both the Royals and the Chiefs that ensured they would go nowhere soon. Only recently have the leases come back to haunt the county with their costly maintenance requirements.
Defeated at the polls in a 1991 re-election bid, Waris remained a player, both as a lobbyist and with his continued presence in county issues through the relationships he kept.
"If he needed something, he could count votes," Bondon says. "Bill's a politician. His interest was all over the place."
But he always had a special interest in the Sports Authority, dating back to when, as county executive, he had tried to claim it as his board to populate. The county legislators at the time had to sue him to reclaim the privilege.
Bondon says it doesn't surprise him that Shields would ask for Waris' help in maneuvering her own candidate, Richard Berkley, onto the Sports Authority.
Waris and Shields have not always been close. In fact, they spent much of the past decade opposing each other at every turn, as Waris explained to the federal grand jury.
"We're not close friends," he said. "She supported me when I first ran for county executive, then I supported her when she ran for City Council.... When she ran for county executive, I was against her. Then she was very mad at me. For about a three- or four-year period, we hardly spoke."
Apparently the two made up -- at least well enough that Shields gave Waris the $56,000-a-year lobbying contract in 2003.
On March 12, 2004, FBI special agent Schaefer interviewed Waris for the first time about his recollection of the October 2003 conference call. Waris denied that he'd taken part in the call. But four days later, in another interview with Schaefer, Waris recalled his participation.
He also remembered, Schaefer testified, that when Cathy Nugent had asked outright if she was being asked to take a $12,000 contract in return for convincing her husband not to seek a Sports Authority position, Shields replied, "Yes, that is true."
"[Waris] indicated to us during this interview that he did hear that conversation and he did hear her say that was a condition of the contract," Schaefer testified.
Waris, Schaefer said, had agreed with the other three -- Shields had plainly tied the contract to Dan Nugent's withdrawal.
But the next month, on April 21, when Waris appeared before the grand jury, he changed his tune.
When he was repeatedly asked a straightforward question -- did he hear Shields offer the Fort Osage contract in return for Dan Nugent's turning down a possible seat on the Sports Authority -- Waris offered tortured, elliptical denials: "You know, I cannot honestly say I heard that, but I think you know it all came about because of that, obviously, you know, but I did not honestly hear Katheryn say that. If you're asking me to say that, I couldn't say that she said that."
Schaefer testified that, after Waris' sudden reversal, he interviewed a woman named Lisa Hughes, a friend of Waris', who told him she'd heard Waris say he'd lied to the grand jury and that he was worried it would get him in trouble. Schaefer said Hughes told him Waris had indicated he would cooperate in "any way" if he were charged with perjuring himself and that he'd lied only because Shields had threatened to take away his $56,000 county lobbying contract -- his livelihood.
Waris' change of heart had significant consequences, Schaefer told the grand jury. His sworn testimony had derailed the investigation of Shields. Instead, in November the grand jury was asked to indict Waris for perjuring himself and obstructing justice. If convicted at a trial scheduled for June, Waris could face up to 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Waris, through his attorney, John P. O'Connor, denies that he lied to the grand jury, and he continues to deny that Shields did anything wrong.
Waris told the grand jury that it made no sense to bribe the Nugents -- there was no chance that Dan Nugent would be chosen for the Sports Authority post.
"They had already made a call to the governor, from my understanding, to have Dick Berkley be placed back on it, you know," Waris told the grand jury. "I mean, that call was made, and he made the commitment as far as I knew," Waris continued, not identifying who had called the governor.
Waris later testified that it was Shields herself who called Holden to make sure that Berkley would be chosen from the October slate of Sports Authority candidates.
But if the fix was in to make sure Berkley got the spot, why would Shields go to such lengths to keep someone like Dan Nugent off the list of nominees?
According to Schaefer's and Bondon's allegations, the figure who was at one time the most potent in county government made an unnecessary bribe simply to cover her bets in a game she'd already fixed. Only when she called in the feds to investigate her political enemies did she find herself a target of their probe.
Shields, the powerful fixer, had unwittingly fixed herself.
Schaefer told the grand jury that his investigation was not "totally over," but his choice of words seemed to imply that Waris' flip-flop had sapped much of the FBI's energy. Shields may never face charges for bribery. But indictment or no indictment, her former aspirations appear to be sunk.
Three days before John Friedmann's memorial service, Bill Waris took John Bondon to lunch at Waid's Restaurant on 103rd Street.
Bondon had already heard that state Sen. Matt Bartle had made Bondon's departure from the Sports Authority a condition of Berkley's confirmation. At Waid's, Waris told Bondon that Shields also wanted him gone.
Waris also brought up the supposed conflict of interest Bondon risked by being associated with ADAPT, the counseling business, and the Sports Authority at the same time. Bondon had already checked with a lawyer, who told him that no conflict existed. But Waris was adamant -- Shields wanted him to give up ADAPT or give up the Sports Authority.
Bondon says today that it was just typical bullying from Shields. She really wanted him off the sports body, and threatening to make him give up a source of his income was just par for the course.
"Katheryn didn't want me on the Authority anymore. Bartle didn't want me on the Authority anymore," he says. "I wasn't going to jump through hoops to that group and sell my soul to the devil."
Bondon left before ordering lunch. "I got up from the table, told [Waris] nicely to go fuck himself, and never spoke to him again."
In August, Bondon did finally leave the Sports Authority. Bistate II, meanwhile, lost in every county except Jackson County.
Since then, the Sports Authority has found itself under greater scrutiny as the Royals, the Chiefs and downtown interests have debated how best to renew leases with the teams and upgrade the sports facilities.
Last month, Berkley unexpectedly resigned his post as Sports Authority chairman to spend time with his ailing wife. His departure left the body with only two members, not enough for a quorum. The new governor, Matt Blunt, has three new sets of nominating panels awaiting his choices.
Shields, meanwhile, has been subpoenaed about the professional-services contracts she has awarded without public discussion or bidding, including the contract she gave Waris. She's also been asked for records relating to the expenses of fixing up the county offices in Independence and relating to a fund-raising contract for the Fort Osage historical site that was offered but never issued.
Perhaps finally worn down by her battles, Shields has recently begun to reach out to rivals, including Sanders. A few weeks ago, the two were spotted having lunch downtown. Mending fences over tater tots, apparently.
She turned down several requests to be interviewed for this story.