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Government, Politics & Issues

Former St. Louis Alderman Gets 1 Year In Prison For Misuse Of Campaign Donations

Alderman Larry Arnowitz, D-12th Ward and Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, confer during a Board of Aldermen meeting on July 7, 2017.
FIle photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Former St. Louis Alderman Larry Arnowitz, shown here at a board meeting in 2017, was sentenced Friday for using campaign donations for personal expenses.

Former south St. Louis Alderman Larry Arnowitz was sentenced Friday to one year in prison, followed by six months of home confinement, for using campaign donations for personal expenses.

Arnowitz admitted Friday that in February 2019, he used his campaign fund to make payments on his house in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood. The crime became a federal offense because Arnowitz mailed the check to the mortgage company. Prosecutors said he also used campaign contributions for personal expenses on other occasions.

He resigned as 12th Ward alderman in March when he was first indicted.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for 12 to 18 months in prison. Prosecutors did not ask U.S. District Judge Stephen Clark for a specific sentence.

Arnowitz’s attorney, Patrick Conroy, had asked for his client to serve the sentence on home confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a 66-year-old individual with pre-existing conditions of diabetes and high blood pressure, Defendant is in the high-risk category for contracting COVID-19,” Conroy wrote. Serving time at a federal facility, or a county jail, could “result in an enhanced risk to defendant’s health as well as an increased potential expense to the county in caring for the defendant’s medical needs.”

Prosecutors told Clark: “This court’s sentence should be fair and just under the facts and circumstances presented, and acknowledge the extent of defendant’s criminal conduct and the harm his conduct caused to the public who mistakenly placed their trust in him.”

Their sentencing memo included an anonymous letter directing the court to a Nextdoor post in which Arnowitz allegedly wrote that the federal investigation was the result of “political people” calling investigators.

“Defendant points his finger at imaginary individuals who worked to somehow stifle his political ambitions at becoming mayor. This clearly evidences a lack of acceptance of responsibility on the part of defendant,” prosecutors wrote.

Conroy attempted to counter that in the hearing, describing his client as remorseful and aware of his wrongdoing.

Arnowitz, with audible emotion, addressed the court. “I just want to say that I’m guilty, and I want to accept responsibility for what I’ve done and pay everybody back ... and move on,” he said.

Clark, however, while reading his sentence pointed to years of misconduct outlined by the federal government.

“It appears he did it because he thought he could get away with it,” the judge said, adding that Arnowitz “abused a position of trust” by using campaign funds for his personal expenses on many occasions, not just last February.

In addition to prison time, Arnowitz must pay over $21,000 in restitution and forfeit whatever money remains in his campaign fund. When Clark asked Arnowitz how he intended to pay the money back, the former alderman said he will use whatever he has left over from paying his monthly bills and hopes to find a part-time job to cover the rest after his imprisonment.

It is unclear if the conviction will impact the pension Arnowitz earned during his eight years as alderman or the 35 years he spent working in various city departments. State law requires individuals to forfeit any pension earned after Aug. 28, 2014, if they are convicted of certain state crimes or the federal equivalent, but there is no state statute governing the use of the U.S. Postal Service.

The combined plea and sentencing hearing took place on the video conferencing platform Zoom to comply with coronavirus-related restrictions on in-person court proceedings. Because of technology limitations, reporters were only able to listen to, not watch, the hearing.

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