St. Louis County employee indicted in federal COVID relief scheme
A St. Louis County jail administrator and previous administrative assistant to a former St. Louis County Council member is facing federal wire fraud charges in what an indictment describes as a pandemic relief kickback scheme.
Anthony “Tony” Weaver was indicted Tuesday, following a tumultuous week in local politics that saw three St. Louis aldermen charged in a separate bribery scheme. Weaver pleaded not guilty and declined to comment as he left the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page hired Weaver as a change management coordinator for the county's Department of Justice Services in December 2019. Weaver had previously worked for former Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray.
Page fired Weaver on Tuesday. A Page spokesman said the fact that the businesses in question never received the requested funds proved that controls put in place for the program “prevented any theft of taxpayer funds, and the indictments are not related to work he was doing for the County Executive in Justice Services.”
Weaver was paid more than $82,000 a year in the change management coordinator role, according to a local salary database. Former members of the Justice Services Advisory Board, which helps oversee the county jail, told St. Louis Public Radio they did not believe Weaver had the necessary experience.
According to the indictment, in May 2020, Weaver approached a man identified as John Smith, who owns several local businesses, with a plot to fraudulently apply for grants worth $15,000 through the county’s Small Business Relief Program.
The Small Business Relief Program granted federal CARES Act funds to small businesses at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The indictment says Weaver told the business that his former boss on the council, identified only as Jane Doe, needed to know the names of Smith’s companies as she made decisions on the funding.
According to the indictment, John Smith owned a mechanic shop, a laundromat, a supermarket, a gas station and a construction company.
Weaver told Smith that Jane Doe’s office would “do what I tell them to do” regarding awarding the grants and told him to lie about the pandemic's effects on his laundromat.
“Did you have any business interruption during the Corona for the laundromat?”
“I don’t think so,” Smith said.
”You don’t want to say that,” Weaver replied. “You want to let them think you was closed, you had to lay off one of your employees.”
Weaver then filled out applications for four loans on behalf of Smith’s business over the next several weeks, the indictment says. Federal officials say he falsely claimed the businesses were closed during the pandemic.
The pair agreed to split the money, the indictment says. Smith and Weaver also discussed ways to avoid getting caught. Weaver warned Smith on one occasion not to use political donations to pay kickbacks or use cellphones to submit grant applications, according to the indictment.
At one point, Weaver worried the government had bugged the pair's conversations, noting that was how former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger got caught, the indictment says.
The applications for Smith’s businesses were not approved. Weaver told Smith he could try again during the next round of funding, the indictment says.
The indictment also accuses Weaver of approaching other businesses in a similar scheme, but only two other companies agreed to the kickback scheme.
Only one grant application Weaver helped with was successful. Weaver complained to Smith he was paid just $300 for his help, according to the indictment.
“Everything they’ve got over there (St. Louis County) we need to get some of … that’s my attitude,” Weaver said.
Weaver faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith is prosecuting the case. Last week, a federal grand jury indicted St. Louis Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed and former Aldermen Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins-Muhammad in a years-long bribery scheme. Goldsmith is also handling that case.
Walton Gray could not be reached for comment.