Feds: St. Louis aldermen took bribes for developer tax breaks

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, Committee chair Jeffrey Boyd and former alderman John Collins-Muhammad were indicted on federal theft and bribery charges.

ST. LOUIS — Federal prosecutors revealed explosive allegations of bribery, theft and corruption reaching the highest levels of St. Louis City Hall in a 66-page indictment released Thursday morning.

The charging documents allege St. Louis Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, Housing and Urban Development Zoning Committee Chairman Jeffrey Boyd and former Alderman John Collins-Muhammad accepted cash payments and other gifts in exchange for proposed tax breaks and development project approvals in the city’s north side.

Collins-Muhammad resigned his position last month with a cryptic apology. The US Attorney of the Eastern District of Missouri introduced the charges in a court hearing Thursday afternoon.

RELATED: St. Louis Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, 2 other aldermen under federal indictment

According to a release from the United States Attorney Eastern District of Missouri, Reed, Boyd and Collins-Muhammad are all facing two bribery-related charges each. Collins-Muhammad is also facing a charge of honest services bribery/wire fraud, and Boyd is facing a separate, two-count wire fraud indictment related to an automobile insurance scheme.

If convicted of the main indictment, Reed’s and Boyd’s charges carry respective maximum penalties of 10 years and five years in prison, as well as a $250,000 fine, the attorney’s office said. Collins-Muhammad’s wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and his bribery charges carry a 10-year and 5-year maximum, respectively. Boyd’s additional wire fraud charges carry maximum penalties of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.

Special agents for the FBI issued subpoenas to the St. Louis Development Corporation last month seeking emails, texts, voicemails, financial documents and other records at 5337 Von Phul St. and 4201 R Geraldine Ave.

Property registration documents show both properties are owned by Mohammed Almuttan, a local gas station owner who was indicted in 2017 on drug and money laundering charges. Those charges were dropped in April, one month before Collins-Muhammad resigned under federal scrutiny.

Almuttan could not immediately be reached for comment. He’s named as “John Doe” in the indictment. The FBI quotes Almuttan’s private conversations with all three aldermen throughout the document, suggesting he may have been wearing a wire to record their transactions.

According to the indictment obtained by 5 On Your Side, Reed met with Almuttan at his campaign headquarters and discussed plans to redraw the ward map to protect Collins-Muhammad from activists who wanted to recall him from office.

The charges claim Reed asked Almuttan for $20,000 in campaign cash.

“If you can do five ($5,000) today, or something like that, that would be a huge help,” Reed said, according to the indictment.

Collins-Muhammad accepted a free 2016 Volkswagen CC sedan, a new Apple iPhone 11, and at least $3,000 in campaign contributions, along with several cash payments throughout a lengthy process as he tried to steer legislation through the city council that would benefit Almuttan’s gas station development project, the indictment said.

In May 2021, Collins-Muhammad discussed plans to approve a construction permit for Almuttan’s gas station.

“DON’T START CONSTRUCTION UNTIL THIS PASSES! Otherwise taxes are going to be high,” Collins-Muhammad warned Almuttan in a text message quoted in the indictment.

“You’re gonna end up paying 26, $27,000,” he told him.

Almuttan responds, “30,000 times 10 years, that’s a lot of money.”

“Here’s $1,000, get it done,” Almuttan offers. “I’ll have a nice package for you.”

On June 29, Collins-Muhammad signaled the clearances were moving through the Board of Alderman and assured Almuttan that he could “start construction.”

The indictment quoted the following alleged conversation:

“How is the vehicle,” Almuttan asked.

“Perfect,” Collins-Muhammad responded.

“Keep using it until we get this thing going, you know, get the Tax Abatement going, then whatever you need,” Almuttan told the alderman.

“Start digging,” Collins-Muhammad responded. “Like go, man. You got the, you got the green light.”

The charges also list at least $4,000 in cash payments Almuttan made to Lewis Reed and $3,500 in campaign contributions.

According to the charges, Almuttan asked if Reed would prefer “Cash rather than checks?”

“That’ll work, yeah,” Reed allegedly responded, telling him he was focused on “The long run. We’re gonna’ all grow together.”

The FBI claims Reed agreed to certify Almuttan’s trucking and hauling company as a Minority Business Enterprise, and steer city contracts to him, though it lays out no evidence those transactions ever occurred.

Later, Collins-Muhammad arranged a meeting between Almuttan and Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, telling Almuttan that Boyd could help him purchase a commercial property on Geraldine Avenue from the City’s Land Reutilization authority, the indictment said.

The property was in Boyd’s ward, and Collins-Muhammad told Almuttan that he would have to pay cash for Boyd’s help, according to the indictment. Boyd wrote a letter of recommendation for Almuttan to the Land Reutilization Authority.

Almuttan was able to buy the property, valued by the LRA at $50,000, for only $14,000, the indictment alleges. It also alleges Boyd submitted and sponsored a board bill which provided a large property tax abatement for the project.

Boyd spoke in unvarnished terms and offered his clout in exchange for contributions, according to the indictment. Boyd said he would move the bill through Housing and Urban Development Zoning, but warned Almuttan he was at odds with Mayor Tishaura Jones.

“I’m on Tishauras [expletive] list,” Collins-Muhammad said, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleged the following conversation between Boyd and Collins-Muhammad:

“Appraised at $459,000. That’s, hmm, I just want to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting, I mean, I’ll support you 100%,” Boyd said. “I mean, just, yeah. You pray, I’ll give you a Letter of Support. Pray whatever you want to.”

Collins-Muhammad replied, “Soon as you gave it to him, he slapped your hand and put it in his pocket. Yeah, you’re good.”

The indictment also alleged that Almuttan and Collins-Muhammad had a conversation regarding the project once his offer was accepted in which Collins-Muhammad said “Jeffrey came through” and encouraged Almuttan to ask for “30 or 40 grand” in TIF funding as well.

Boyd accepted a total of $9,500 in cash from Almuttan related to the project, and Almuttan also made free repairs worth $1,611 to Boyd’s 2006 Chevrolet Impala and $733 to his Kia van, the indictment alleged.

The indictment alleged the following conversation took place on December 2021:

“Everything should be smooth, it already passed the St. Louis LCRA …. Once it gets to a Board Bill it’s cleared most of the hurdles so, ain’t nobody [expletive] with me with a Board Bill, so it’ll pass,” Boyd said. “…It’ll get out of HUDZ, then it’ll get to the floor, and only if some of these [expletive] little young white progressives act a [expletive] fool, you know. They can shut [expletive] down … So, we just have to make sure that we hold our [expletive] together.”

The indictment also alleged Boyd and Almuttan agreed to split the proceeds of insurance fraud related to an accident that occurred on Almuttan’s used car lot on Jan. 21, 2021. After Almuttan learned his insurance company wouldn’t claim the damage, the indictment alleges Boyd suggested falsely claiming three of the damaged vehicles belonged to Boyd’s used car company.

According to the indictment, Boyd filled out bill of sale and certificate of title forms and fraudulently backdated them to Jan. 2, claiming he paid $22,000 for the three vehicles. Boyd sought $22,000 for the vehicles, plus a $50 per vehicle, per day storage fee for the vehicles. Boyd’s insurance company rejected the claim.

Reed, Collins-Muhammad and Boyd were present in court Thursday afternoon. All three pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Boyd’s lawyer said he’s not resigning his position as an alderman and signaled Reed may also stay on the job under federal indictment. US Magistrate Judge John Bodenhausen barred them from speaking privately, but said they can discuss official business so long as their conversations are in public.

“If their discussions are in public, I’m not too worried about that,” Bodenhausen said during Boyd’s court appearance.

In a letter sent to the clerk of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, Lewis Reed requested 10th Ward Alderman Joe Vollmer preside over board meetings until further notice.

The US attorney plans to meet the media on Thursday to further discuss the indictment.

The full indictment can be read below. Warning, there is strong language.

reaction

The mayor’s office released the following statement Thursday afternoon following the indictment:

“Mayor Jones is deeply troubled by the allegations outlined by the US Attorney against Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, and President Lewis Reed. Our office will monitor this case as it progresses through the legal system.”

The office of Comptroller Darlene Green released the following statement:

Comptroller Darlene Green is saddened and disappointed by the actions asserted in today’s indictment of President Lewis Reed, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd and former Alderman John Collins-Muhammad. Comptroller Green believes St. Louis city residents deserve elected officials who look out for the people’s interests. “

This is a developing story that 5 On Your Side will continue to update.

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