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Government, Politics & Issues

Pine Lawn Mayor Faces Federal Extortion Charges

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City of Pine Lawn website
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Updated with a copy of the indictment and additional information.

The mayor of a small North County municipality has been arrested on federal extortion charges.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation took Sylvester Caldwell into custody on Thursday. He'll be arraigned on a single count of interference with commerce by extortion on Monday. 

As mayor, Caldwell was in charge of selecting the company that would handle towing for the Pine Lawn police department. According to the indictment, Caldwell demanded at least $1,600 over four months from an unnamed towing company in exchange for directing most of the towing business to that company. The payments allegedly took place at gas stations and restaurants in the St. Louis area.

The FBI investigation found that Caldwell and the owner would often speak in code, with Caldwell asking for “Mountain Dew in a cup” when it was time for another payment. At one point during the four months, Caldwell threatened to send business to another towing company, until the owner of the first company paid him $500 in cash.

Audits in 2006 and 2011 gave Pine Lawn poor marks for financial and management issues. The reviews found that the city did not have written contracts with some of its service providers, and could not prove that it had properly bid for other services. Towing was not specifically mentioned in either report.

Caldwell, a city spokesman, and several aldermen did not immediately return phone calls for comment. Alderwoman Carla Walker, of the city’s First Ward, had no comment, saying she was unaware of the indictment or any investigation.

Caldwell was re-elected to a third term as mayor of the 3,200-person city in 2013 with 430 votes.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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