And what we know so far
Re-posted from St Louis American Newspaper
In our city’s 258-year history, there likely has never been the political shake-up that we’ve seen in the last week. Political scandals, sure. From the relatively recent resignation of former alderman Larry Arnowitz in 2020, to Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s messy prosecution of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, St. Louis has seen elected official after elected official suffer consequences for misusing and abusing the powers of their office. Our former circuit attorney George Peachgot caught in a 1992 sting operation when he tried to solicit an undercover police officer for sex – after years of prosecuting hundreds of sex crimes. We’re a city known for its dueling families, usually fighting to elect their own allegedly corrupt government officials. St. Louis is no stranger to political turmoil and sudden upheavals of power.
But none of that history could have prepared our city for the federal grand jury’s May 25 indictment, unsealed and released into the public record on June 2. The Indictment found that there was enough evidence to criminally charge not just one but three – elected city officials, including now-former president of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, and former aldermen Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins- Muhammad. Each man was indicted on at least two white collar felonies, with Boyd charged under a separate, additional case related to forgery of auto registration documents and attempting to defraud a North Carolina auto insurance company. Collins-Muhammad resigned from the Board in early May, likely after receiving a notice from the federal grand jury. Boyd resigned last Friday afternoon, following his appearance at the weekly full Board meeting in a vain attempt to pass a tax abatement – less than 24 hours after pleading “not guilty” to taking bribes related to tax abatements.
… after calls from his colleagues and other elected officials – and dozens of protesters in front of his house – Reed finally announced that he would be stepping down from his position, effective immediately.
Reed remained the sole hold-out after last week’s initial appearance and arraignment, refusing to resign until Tuesday of this week. But after calls from his colleagues and other elected officials – and dozens of
protesters in front of his house – Reed finally announced that he would be stepping down from his position, effective immediately.
The seven-count, 66-page document is made mostly of transcribed audio recordings of each alderman taking a bribe or discussing a previous bribe in relation to at least two tax abatements.
How did we get here?
The timeline of the two-and-a-half year federal investigation into the now-former aldermen Boyd, Collins-Muhammad, and Reed actually stretches back to May 2017, when 35 people were separately indicted by a grand jury in the federal court in downtown St. Louis. Although that seemingly unrelated case dealt with a drug ring and money laundering, it centered around “Abu Ali,” or Muhammed Almuttan, an area business owner with dozens of properties across North City and North County. In late April of this year, five of Almuttan’s six federal charges through the 2017 case were dismissed – just a few weeks before Collins Muhammad’s resignation on May 11. Two days later, on May 13, the St. Louis Development Corp. [SLDC] shared that it had received a federal subpoena requesting information related to two North City properties that had received tax abatements.
One of those abatements was in Collins-Muhammad’s ward; the other was in Boyd’s ward.
As it turns out, both properties were owned by Almuttan, and for two and a half years, he apparently wore a wire and allowed his phone to be recorded by federal investigators. It appears to be every conversation with Boyd, Collins-Muhammad, and Reed. Dozens of those discussions, as it turns out, included the exchange of numerous cash payments for the aldermen’s support of tax abatement bills to save Almuttan hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes.
In other words, a bribe.
The indictment’s transcribed audio recordings include instance after instance where the aldermen not only accept cash bribes from Almuttan at that moment, but even discuss bribes exchanged – all captured on the federal informant’s wire.
On page 47, for instance, on July 30, 2020, “John Doe” (Almuttan) asks Collins Muhammad, “John do you remember when you told me to give [Boyd] 2,000, 25? 3,000? I gave him 25, but I forgot to put it in the envelope.” Collins-Muhammad responds that Boyd was okay with the previous cash payment that Almuttan had given him, related to a tax abatement deal.