Hal Goldsmith has been doing his best Oprah Winfrey impersonation.
He is as though the assistant US attorney for Missouri’s Eastern District is standing on the steps of the federal courthouse before a cheering crowd of St. Louis politicos.
“You get an indictment,” he says to form St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, “and you get an indictment,” he says to form Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, “and you get an indictment,” Goldsmith says to Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who resigned under pressure Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier Tuesday, Goldsmith handed out his fourth political corruption indictment in a week, this time to St. Louis County political appointee Anthony Weaver, who was promptly fired by County Executive Sam Page. The Weaver indictment for wire fraud reads similarly to the bribery indictments of the city aldermen, with transcripts of the government employee caught on tape allegedly trying to exchange official public action for cold, hard cash.
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Two things are clear about both the city and county indictments: First, the people accused of wrongdoing were as hapless as Keystone cops, often failing to provide the promised favors, particularly in Weaver’s case. At one point while discussing splitting potential proceeds of the government loot with a local businessman who Goldsmith refers to as “John Smith,” Weaver says:
“I hope this place is not bugged … that’s how Stenger got caught.”
Indeed it is. Steve Stenger, the former county executive, went to federal prison for trying to trade government action for campaign donations. Stenger moved the campaign loot — millions of millions of dollars — through multiple friendly committees by which he tried to hide his intentions. The latest indictments, on the other hand, seem to suggest that Weaver, Reed, Boyd and Muhammad were just seeking some walking-around cash. And that’s the second thing that these indictments, building on the round of Stenger-related indictments a few years back, continue to indicate: Too many people in St. Louis government believe that taxpayer dollars are theirs for the taking.
“There’s so much damn money around St. Louis County, it’s crazy,” Weaver said, according to the indictment.
“We need to get some of that,” said the man Goldsmith called John Smith, the gas station owner who bears a striking resemblance to “John Doe” of the city indictments.
“Uh huh,” Weaver responds. “Everything they’ve got over there we need to get some of … that’s my attitude.”
It’s a bad attitude for a government employee to have, but apparently, it’s the sort of attitude that is rampant in our community. It’s not like St. Louis is alone in having politicians, in the case of these indictments all Democrats, looking for a handout. But some of this behavior is all too predictable.
Take Weaver, who, when this investigation began, was working to form County Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray. I first wrote about him in 2009, when the Missouri Ethics Commission issued more than $120,000 in fines to Weaver, former lawyer Elbert Walton Jr. (Gray’s father), and the political action committee they ran, called Unity PAC. That action came after a series of hard-hitting articles in the Post-Dispatch by Elizabethe Holland outlining various financial shenanigans connected to Walton and Weaver, mostly related to the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District.
A state audit later blasted the fire district as being the “poster child” for bad government, as it handed out lucrative contracts to Walton, Weaver and others. Then-St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge John A. Ross eventually put an end to the mismanagement, freezing funds and forcing the jettisoning of Walton and his cronies.
Amid all that, Walton’s political power in north St. Louis County was still pervasive enough that when Ross was recommended for a federal judgeship in 2010 by President Barack Obama, his appointment was opposed in a letter written by former Congressman Lacy Clay, a longtime Walton ally.
Clay lost that fight. Ross ended up on the bench, and he continues to serve in the very building where in the past two weeks Goldsmith has handed down four federal corruption indictments after what he called a “two-and-a-half year undercover investigation.”
That investigation uncovered the seedy underbelly of St. Louis politics, with too many politicians expecting business owners to “throw” them some cash for services rendered. How many? It’s hard to say. The indictments themselves contain hints that there may be more announcements made by Goldsmith in coming days or weeks.
“None of us have a crystal ball, and we cannot predict if there are more indictments to come,” Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said Wednesday morning. “I think this is the tip of the iceberg.”