Jones expects more indictments; Page defends grant oversight
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is expecting more indictments from a sprawling corruption investigation that spans political circles in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
“We don't know how many other people are involved,” Jones said Wednesday. The investigation already has resulted in the resignation of three St. Louis aldermen and the firing of a St. Louis County employee. “I think that there are more federal indictments to come. I don't know that. But I think that this is the tip of the iceberg.”
Board of Aldermen then-President Lewis Reed and now former Aldermen Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins-Muhammad are accused of taking bribes in exchange for helping a small-business owner get development incentives. They have all pleaded not guilty.
Collins-Muhammad resigned in May and Boyd a day after the charges were announced last week. Reed stepped down Tuesday, saying in a letter that he wanted to make sure he offered “whatever insight and experience I could to make the transition of my office as smooth as possible.”
Alderman Joe Vollmer of the 10th Ward will serve as acting president until a special election in November.
“All three did the right thing by resigning,” Jones said. “Now our city can take the first tentative steps to move forward.”
She urged her political allies on the board and in the city to give Vollmer a chance to lead.
While the allegations speak for themselves, she added, “What we can't measure are the businesses, the grocery stores, the homes that never came to St. Louis, particularly north St. Louis, because of issues like these.”
St. Louis County fallout
The business owner at the center of the city’s bribery case may be the same individual at the center of a separate kickback scheme in St. Louis County focused on the first round of federal coronavirus relief funds.
Anthony Weaver pleaded not guilty Tuesday to allegations that he helped the business owner, identified only as John Smith in the indictment, falsify applications for small-business relief grants, with the expectation that he would receive a share of those grants when awarded. At the time, Weaver worked for then-Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray. He was later hired by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page as a change management coordinator and was fired after the indictment became public.
None of John Smith’s businesses received any grants — which Page said Wednesday vindicates his decision to have law and accounting firms review the applications.
“We can’t stop people from trying to steal from the county government, but we can set up policies and procedures that make it very difficult,” he said.
Page pledged to cooperate with any potential ongoing investigations.
“And anything that the council wants to do to double-check the work of the law firm we originally hired, or two separate accounting firms that reviewed those applications, or the ongoing work of the U.S. attorney or the FBI, I would support that effort,” he said.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, who is a frequent critic of Page, plans to introduce a nonbinding resolution calling for a state audit of past federal spending. Missouri law also allows county voters to petition for an audit, although there is no indication that such an effort is underway in St. Louis County.
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