Lake Ozark Mayor Gerry Murawski admits he had sex with a prostitute in 2015, while he was a city alderman. It turns out, the girl was 16 years old, according to FBI and police investigators.
Murawski says it was a one-time mistake, but that mistake caught the attention of local and federal law enforcement. Over the course of three investigations, Murawski’s relationships with several young women in 2015 and 2016 raised questions about prostitution and the use of his political power. For his part, Murawski says he was unjustly characterized and that he helped a great many girls pay their bills and get jobs. But the people investigators and Lake Expo spoke to see it very differently.
Did Gerry Murawski help young women in their time of greatest need?
Or did he target them when they were vulnerable, plying them with money and favors in exchange for sex?
Or did they use him — in a relationship that looked more like a “hustle?”
It, of course, depends on whom you ask.
Murawski was investigated three times — twice in 2016 and once in 2019 — by law enforcement including the Columbia Police Department, FBI, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the Missouri Attorney General, due to his dubious relationships with young women.
In one investigation, on March 23, 2016, Murawski admitted to Columbia Police and the FBI that he had patronized a prostitute in 2015 — a prostitute authorities say was 16 years old when he paid for sex with her (Murawski said he thought she was around 19).
In a second, parallel investigation, also in March of 2016, a series of anonymous tips reportedly sent to then-mayor Johnnie Franzeskos which Franzeskos passed along to then-assistant prosecutor Ben Winfrey (now the Miller County Prosecutor), alleged Murawski had been involved in prostitution and online sexual solicitation. Winfrey gave that information to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and investigator Matthew Koch looked into the matter. Koch found that Murawski had recently admitted to Columbia Police and the FBI his patronizing of a prostitute in Columbia, but he wrote in a preliminary investigation report, “Although the allegation of Mr. Murawski’s involvement with prostitution in the lake area could possibly be credible, further information from the anonymous source would be required before search warrants could be obtained for Mr. Murawski’s online, email, and computer activities. The anonymous source did indicate the allegation could not be proven. Furthermore, two other law enforcement agencies conducted an investigation on Mr. Murawski. Further investigation in this matter is not possible without further information from the anonymous source.”
In the third investigation, in 2019, Murawski’s relationship with three women in Laclede County Jail — along with an anonymous tip filled with salacious screenshots and suggestions, and a Lake Ozark bar owner’s recollection of Murawski’s many girls — raised questions about whether Murawski had used money and the promise of his political influence to obtain sex from and traffic young women.
Crucially, Murawski was never charged in any of the three investigations.
But everything about the story seems crucial: the perspective of the young women who say he targets vulnerable girls, the opinion of the prosecutor that the actions didn’t qualify as prostitution, the political context for the tip that got the 2019 investigation started, and Murawski’s stance that he was “helping” these girls in their time of need.
Lake Expo obtained documents from the investigations (viewable at the end of this story) and spoke with witnesses, as well as Murawski. The picture that emerges is — like so many things involving sex, money, power and crime — complicated, and appears to shift depending on what perspectives the viewer takes.
Murawski allegedly told investigators he found the prostitute in an ad on Craigslist, and they completed the transaction at a hotel in Columbia, Mo.
At the time Murawski was a Lake Ozark city alderman; he would be elected mayor three-and-a-half years later. Investigators say it was his political position and continued connection with the teen prostitute that thrust him into the crosshairs of a joint human trafficking investigation by the Columbia Police Department and FBI. In an interview with investigators eight months after patronizing the prostitute, Murawski admitted to it. He was never charged.
Murawski told investigators that, after having sex at the Red Roof Inn in Columbia, he and the girl went to a convenience store, where he bought her a phone card and other items. He later gave the girl a phone and paid for service for one of the three numbers he had stored for her in his phone. Her number was saved in his phone as “RH” which Murawski said stands for “Red Hot.”
The prostitute used the cell number Murawski was paying for to advertise her services on various websites. Here’s one of those advertisements:
Murawski acknowledged all of this in the interview documented by the FBI. According to the FBI document, Murawski said there were multiple other women with whom he had a sexual relationship while paying for various expenses including bail, attorney fees, cell phone bills, and even a car. “Murawski, a widower, was attracted to young women and had helped several of them financially,” the FBI report reads. “Murawski realized these women sometimes took advantage of his generosity, but this did not bother him because he enjoyed their companionship.”
One of the women had an ad on Backpage.com, which Murawski said he had viewed because she was a friend. The woman had a job but advertised herself on Backpage in order to support her crack cocaine habit, Murawski reportedly told the FBI. He acknowledged having a sexual relationship with that woman, the FBI document says, but he insisted the only time he ever patronized a prostitute was with the girl in Columbia. Murawski appeared to have visited multiple sites that are commonly used for obtaining women for sex: in addition to Craigslist (where he admitted finding the prostitute) and Backpage, he had a profile on SeekingNaughty.com, with the username Heydaddy58. The connection with Murawski’s cell phone account along with the account bearing his name on SeekingNaughty.com are what triggered the 2019 investigation, though MSHP investigator Darrin Haslag said the results of a search warrant showed Murawski had not solicited or sought the services of a prostitute through that account.
When asked by Lake Expo about the teen prostitute in Columbia, Murawski initially denied it, but then changed his tune. “It happened,” he said, adding, “I thought she was 20… I made a mistake.”
“I admit to you that after my wife died I went through about two years… I was lost. And I kind of came back to my senses,” Murawski said. “I didn’t ever have another prostitute, so I learned a lesson from that.”
In Missouri, soliciting a prostitute is a Class B Misdemeanor, but was classified as a Class A Misdemeanor until Dec. 31, 2016. The law specifies, “It shall not be a defense that the person believed that the individual he or she patronized for prostitution was eighteen years of age or older.”
The Investigation In 2019
In April of 2019, Investigator Matt Rodriguez with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into Murawski after receiving a tip that he may be involved in trafficking young females.
The tip came from the wife of then-alderman Dale Hicks. When Rodriguez spoke to her, she reportedly said former Lake Ozark mayor Johnnie Franzeskos and his wife had shared with them concerns about Murawski being mayor. Murawski had just beaten Franzeskos in the mayoral election and Larry Giampa had just beaten Dale Hicks in the alderman race, two days before. Hicks also reportedly told the investigator that Alderwoman Pat Thompson had approached him, passing along concerns a constituent had brought to her about Murawski’s behavior.
In the following months, Rodriguez and Missouri State Highway Patrol Investigator Darrin Haslag worked on an investigation that focused on Murawski’s relationship with three girls in Laclede County Jail. Two of the girls told investigators they felt Murawski gave them financial or legal help with the expectation of sex in return. Murawski disagrees, saying he simply wanted to help the girls, and any sex they had was voluntary.
Phone Calls To The Jail
Twenty-two-year-old Stephanie* was in Laclede County jail, facing a charge of Tampering With A Motor Vehicle, when she says a fellow female inmate, Crystal*, approached her with an interesting proposition. According to investigation documents, Crystal told Stephanie that she was Gerry Murawski’s girlfriend, but their relationship was “pretty much like a trick,” and she said Murawski would give Stephanie money if she just talked on the phone with him.
It was mid-2016, only months after Murawski had been interviewed by Columbia Police and the FBI, and the preliminary MSHP investigation into him had been closed for lack of evidence.
Stephanie began speaking with Murawski on the jail phone, and she told investigators Murawski began the relationship talking like he wanted to help her. “He asked me about my case, he told me he would help me get a lawyer,” she told Lake Expo. She recalled Murawski also told her he would talk to the witness in her case and try to get him to not show up for an upcoming court hearing. The witness, Stephanie said, missed the hearing. Murawski also occasionally added money to Stephanie’s jail account. But from Stephanie’s perspective, Murawski had a very specific repayment plan in mind. The frequent jail phone calls quickly turned sexual, and became increasingly so as time went on, according to Haslag’s report. Stephanie says Murawski made it clear that because he had taken care of her in jail, he expected her to “take care of” him, sexually, when she got out.
But Murawski disputes that characterization. “I never said, ‘Hey you gotta have sex with me. I’ll help you.’ That never… I just don’t do that,” he told Lake Expo.
“[H]e is not overheard telling her that it is being done so in exchange for sex,” Haslag wrote, “although the conversations often center on plans for sexual contact between the two, upon her release.”
On Oct. 5, 2016, Murawski bonded Stephanie out. They went home, he made her a bubble bath and poured her a drink, and they had sex, she told Haslag. Stephanie told the investigator she was not attracted to Murawski, but felt “obligated” to have sex because he had spent $800 on her bond and loaded her account with $250 over the past five months.
Stephanie says she stayed with Murawski for approximately a week. During that time, she wrote on the affidavit, “We had sex multiple times, he would take me out to show me off to his friends.” She added, “He also asked me if I had any friends in the same position as me that needed help.” Murawski planned to do the same thing with them that he had done with Stephanie, she said: give them money and items with the expectation of sex as repayment.
She recalled one day when she and Murawski were driving through Olean, Mo. Stephanie says he pointed out one house in town, saying “That’s another one of my girlfriends.” Murawski described that woman as a “legit prostitute” with “customers,” Stephanie said, and that he was one of her customers.
During that week, Stephanie says Murawski got her a job at a local restaurant, and paraded her around town, taking her to pretty much every bar. “Life with him for that week was like being his little arm-candy,” she told Lake Expo. She had the sense she wasn’t the first girl he’d done this with. Stephanie told investigators Murawski seemed to enjoy the feeling of power, bragging about how he had “control over the police” as an alderman in Lake Ozark.
After Stephanie had stayed with Murawski for a week, she says Crystal — just released from prison — moved in. According to Stephanie, Crystal was angry at the attention Murawski was showing Stephanie, and Stephanie also worried she would be violating her probation by living in the same residence as another felon, so she tried to move out.
Stephanie says when she tried to move out, Murawski tried to pull her bond.
“He tried… he really wanted her to go back to jail,” the bail bondsman — who asked not to be named — told Lake Expo. “He tried to get me arrested,” Stephanie added. A family member stepped in and signed Stephanie’s bond, so Murawski was written out of the situation.
But Murawski characterized the situation differently when he spoke to Lake Expo. He acknowledged Stephanie was angry about him trying to pull her bond, but he said he did it because of her drug use. “That wasn’t because of sex, that was because of her getting back to drugs again,” he said. Stephanie admits she’s used drugs in the past.
The bail bondsman told Lake Expo that Murawski had seemed very interested in Stephanie having to do what he told her to do, when he initially bonded her out. “His impression was he could tell her where she could go and what to do,” the bail bondsman told Lake Expo. But Murawski argues that was because he wanted Stephanie to get her life cleaned up.
Stephanie eventually pleaded guilty to the Tampering charge and was sentenced to two years in prison. She told Lake Expo that while she was in prison, Murawski continued to contact her via email for some time, and in the last email, he asked her to call him. “He was like, ‘I just want to make sure you’re okay in there. I feel bad.’… and he sent me like $30 for bras.”
“I think he’s… interested in girls in jail,” she told Lake Expo. “You’re about at the lowest point in your life… for him to use that… use it against you… I thought that was crooked… I was already at some point in my life where I needed some help.”
Stephanie’s cellmate Kelly* also spoke with Murawski in jail. She says after she got out, Murawski helped her financially and also tried to have sex with her.
Kelly told investigators Murawski loaded money on her jail account in exchange for having conversations with him, though she had no plans to see Murawski after getting out of jail. However, she told the investigator that, once she was released, she contacted Murawski because she had nowhere else to go. He drove to Springfield, Mo., to get her. Kelly sometimes stayed with Murawski at his condo, and while she said it was clear he wanted something sexual to happen, she refused to allow it. Once, she said Murawski tried to perform oral sex on her: Kelly told the investigator Murawski had bought her clothes to wear after jail, which included a skirt and 10-inch stilettos, and she said one night after they had been at a local bar, drinking, they went back to Murawski’s home where he asked her to put on the clothes. While walking around with the clothes on, Kelly said, she broke the heel of the stiletto and hopped up on the kitchen island and put her foot on a stool. According to the document, Kelly said Murawski then tried to pull down her underwear and perform oral sex on her, but she refused and immediately went outside. Another time she says he approached her in a bedroom at his condo and asked her to perform oral sex on him, but she refused.
Murawski bought her clothes and provided her with a phone, according to the investigator’s report, and she says that while she played him for money while in jail — referring to the relationship as a “hustle” — she never intended to give him sex. She also noted Murawski “took care of” a speeding ticket for her, though she was unsure whether he had paid the ticket or done something else to eliminate it.
Kelly said Murawski would tell her about other girls he had sex with, and she felt like he was a “predator” who preys on young girls. She also referenced Crystal, saying Murawski had seen her as an easy target when he found her “down and out and needing help. Vulnerable.”
Crystal, according to Stephanie, was Murawski’s “main girl.” Stephanie told Lake Expo as well as the MSHP investigator that Crystal was the one who connected her to Murawski in jail. Crystal reportedly told Stephanie she met Murawski while walking down the Lake Ozark Strip: Murawski pulled over, picked her up, gave her some food, and moved her into his condo. A drug addict, Crystal told Stephanie that Murawski tried to help clean her up, but she eventually wound up in jail. “He’s just helped me get out of a lot of charges,” Stephanie says Crystal told her. “Gerry could do no wrong in her eyes,” Stephanie said of Crystal.
Speaking of Crystal, Murawski told Lake Expo she is the girl he has helped the most, working to help get her off drugs and into a steady job. He also says he bought her clothes and helped her get a car after prison. “I saved a life, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Stephanie says Crystal and Murawski were on-and-off for years. Rumor had it he and Crystal were engaged — it’s what she reportedly told Stephanie, and Alderwoman Pat Thompson told Lake Expo that was her understanding too. Murawski even brought Crystal to some city board meetings, Thompson recalled. But when Stephanie asked Murawski about the engagement while staying at his condo, she told the investigator that Murawski downplayed the relationship, saying they were not engaged but were just friends.
While in Laclede County Jail, Crystal began connecting women with Murawski. She informed Murawski about some of the other female inmates — including Stephanie — and suggested he look into contacting them. Stephanie says there was another girl that Crystal connected with Murawski in jail, named Jen*: Murawski gave her money, but she used it for heroin, Stephanie told Lake Expo, so he was disappointed and stopped giving her money.
Murawski insists the jail phone calls were initiated by the girls, saying Crystal “traded” his number to other girls to earn goodwill among the inmates. “This [Crystal] was frankly the cause of that,” he told Lake Expo.
Eventually, Crystal was moved to state prison, and when she was released, she was angered to find Stephanie staying at Murawski’s condo, Stephanie said. Stephanie tried to leave, and that’s when Murawski tried to pull her bond.
‘I Help People’
Murawski contends he never sought-out the conversations with the girls in jail. “I did offer to help some gals because they would call me and say, ‘Can you help us get out,’ or something. ‘I don’t have a job’ or something. And I would certainly help on that,” he said.
“I help people. I help a lot of people. I help guys, too, by the way. And I’m not gay or anything,” he added, emphasizing the help was not tied to sex. “I’ve got a number of people that I’ve actually helped get back to a decent life,” he said. “Sex wasn’t… all that much of that.”
“I guess there’s things that I do that are abnormal, perhaps,” he said. “But I’ve always been… in good conscience.”
“I had no expectation of [sex in return for helping.]” Murawski said, adding, “In some of the cases they did have sex with me, but it was their choice. It was never pushed. It’s just not what I do.”
None of the women accuse Murawski of forcing them to have sex with him. But both women interviewed by Haslag say they felt Murawski’s help had come with the expectation that sex would be part of the equation.
“This seemed like the norm for Gerry,” Stephanie told Lake Expo. “To have some young girl with him all the time… when I was moving in, [another girl] was moving out. She was giving him ‘massages’…” She told Haslag about that girl, too, and Haslag wrote in his report that this was likely the teen prostitute whom Murawski had patronized 2015. Stephanie told the investigator that when she got out of jail, Murawski kicked that girl out of his condo so Stephanie could move in.
Around the same time Murawski was talking dirty to jailed girls in Laclede County, Terry Huston was doing construction on the wine bar he planned to open next to Bagnell Dam in Lake Ozark. Huston told Lake Expo that Murawski came by the job site, asking about what kind of business Huston and his family planned to open. “First couple of visits by him I just kind of shuffled him over to my brother who was getting the kitchen set up,” Huston recalled. Then one day, Huston says Murawski showed up with a scantily clad girl on his arm and asked Huston to hire her. “Something wasn’t right,” Huston said, and he declined to hire the girl. In the coming weeks, Huston said, as construction continued, Murawski frequently showed up with different girls. “Get them a job, they’ll be hard workers for ya,” he said Murawski would tell him. But Huston and his brother both had a gut-feeling like something was off. Some of the girls didn’t speak English, he told Lake Expo, saying some were Asian, others were Hispanic, and some of the girls told him they had no legal credentials to work in the United States. When Huston told Murawski about his plans to open a cigar bar on the back side of the building, he says Murawski was enthusiastic and replied, “When you get that going, you tell me! I got some girls for that.”
Huston spoke with Investigator Matt Rodriguez on April 11, 2019, and what he told Rodriguez aligns with what he told Lake Expo. Rodriguez wrote Huston told him it was "common knowledge among the locals that Murawski was involved with prostitutes."
When investigators brought the results of their investigation to Miller County Prosecutor Ben Winfrey in 2019, he told them he didn’t believe there was a strong enough case to bring a conviction: neither on Prostitution charges for his exchange of money with the expectation of sex with the jail girls, nor on the charge of Public Servant Acceding to Corruption in relation to the suggestion that he had used his political position to influence the outcome of court cases. That’s according to Investigator Darrin Haslag’s summary of his discussion with Winfrey in 2019. Lake Expo spoke with Winfrey extensively on background for this story, and he provided the following comment on the record: “Criminal charges may only be filed with a law enforcement probable cause statement describing evidence that proves a crime. Allegations or charges of a crime are not evidence of a crime. All citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. As such, the Miller County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office cannot comment on matters that are not filed in court according to Missouri law.”
As for the 2016 investigation by the FBI and Columbia Police Department, Murawski was never charged there either, despite admitting to paying for a prostitute who turned out to be 16 years old. The Boone County Prosecutor’s Office told Lake Expo that Murawski’s name does not show up in their databases, which likely means a probable cause document was never submitted to them by law enforcement.
Stephanie told Lake Expo she was worried about retaliation for having spoken out. “I just don’t want anything to fall back on me just for telling people ‘Hey, this guy’s crooked. He’s no good. And now he’s the mayor of Lake Ozark.’”
Murawski is running for re-election as mayor of Lake Ozark, with municipal elections set for Tuesday, April 6. His challenger: former mayor Johnnie Franzeskos, whom Murawski edged out in 2019 by 35 votes.
*Name changed in the story to protect this individual’s privacy.