Updated March 11 with not guilty plea
A former St. Louis alderman has pleaded not guilty to charges that he spent campaign donations on personal expenses.
An attorney for Larry Arnowitz entered the plea on his behalf Wednesday afternoon. Though Arnowitz was present, he did not speak except to tell U.S. Magistrate Judge Shirley Mensah that he understood the proceedings.
Arnowitz is accused of mail fraud for withdrawing money from his campaign account and then mailing a check to his mortgage company. He remains free on a promise that he shows up to court hearings. His attorney has until April 13 to file any motions ahead of the case going to trial.
The federal government has accused a former alderman from south St. Louis of using his campaign fund for personal expenses, and then filing false reports with state regulators to cover his tracks.
An indictment made public Wednesday charges Larry Arnowitz, 66, with a single count of mail fraud for withdrawing $5,000 from the account “Friends of Larry Arnowitz,” and then mailing a mortgage payment on his house in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood.
Arnowitz, who surrendered to U.S. Marshals on Wednesday, made a brief court appearance in a blue hooded sweatshirt from Cleveland High School and gray pants. He did not enter a plea. He had resigned as alderman of the 12th Ward on Tuesday, citing personal reasons.
Arnowitz's attorney, Patrick Conroy, told "5 On Your Side" that it was "a very hard time" for Arnowitz and his family.
"He loved what he did. He loved helping people," Conroy said. "He is obviously going to retire from public life."
Though Arnowitz faces just the single charge, the indictment makes clear that this was not the only time the grand jury believes he spent campaign funds for personal use.
According to the grand jury, Arnowitz “knowingly used monies in the ‘Friends of Larry Amowitz’ campaign committee bank account for his own benefit in various ways, including but not limited to: Using money in the account to pay for his personal home mortgage; withdrawing funds from the account through cash withdrawals; and, using money in the account to purchase items for his personal use.” The government alleges that the scheme lasted between June 2015 and February 2019.
"Rooting out public corruption is a top priority for the FBI because of the abuse of public trust," Richard Quinn, the special agent in charge of the FBI St. Louis Division said in a statement. “When citizens donate money to an election campaign, they are supporting a candidate to represent them, not to pay for their personal expenses."
Arnowitz faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he’s convicted, though federal guidelines call for a much lighter sentence for a first-time offender. He is required to pay back his campaign fund.
Arnowitz was first elected in 2011, defeating Fred Heitert, the last Republican member of the Board of Aldermen. He won his 2019 Democratic primary with 74% of the vote. A special election to fill his seat must be held between May 17 and June 1.
In addition to his time as alderman, Arnowitz spent 35 years working for various city departments. The impact of a potential conviction on his pension is not clear. 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. However, there is no state statute governing the use of the U.S. Postal Service.
Armowitz is not the first aldermen to be accused of using his campaign fund for personal use. In 2014, former 6th Ward Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett agreed to pay a $10,000 state fine for spending as much as $19,000 from her campaign account on things like student loans, credit card bills and clothing.
Arnowitz’s next court appearance is set for 2 p.m. March 11.
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