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The slogan "WWJD?" is on bracelets, sweatbands and T-shirts. When faced with a tricky real-world choice, the Christian thing to do is to ask "What Would Jesus Do?"
For starters, Jesus might pay the rent.
That's apparently not a priority for self-proclaimed born-again Christian D.C. Chymes, shock jock of the long-running "Steve and DC" morning drive-time radio show on WMLL (104.1 FM). D.C. Chymes, whose real name is Isaiah Wilhelm, filed in June for bankruptcy protection, with a large chunk of his debt owed to former landlords.
In his bankruptcy petition, Wilhelm states he has $155,357 in liabilities, with $60,594 of that amount in unsecured debt. More than half of that debt, $37,450, is owed to landlords for unpaid rent, broken leases and property damage. The Chase Park Plaza has a $18,460 court judgment against Wilhelm for unpaid rent at one of its $6,000-a-month penthouse apartments. Richard Travers has a $15,000 judgment against Wilhelm stemming from a broken lease and unpaid rent in 2001 for a house in Chesterfield.
Travers, a local attorney who owns rental property, is waiting to be paid. He doesn't understand why Wilhelm, who made nearly $400,000 last year, is in bankruptcy court. And Travers is baffled that the radio personality is seeking protection under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code instead of Chapter 13. In a Chapter 7 filing, the debtor seeks to discharge his debts by liquidating assets. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows a debtor to keep his property, but restructures his debt so that he can repay creditors with future disposable income.
"He's only listing $60,000 in unsecured debt," Travers says. "He could pay that in two months' salary. He's just trying to cancel all his debts, which doesn't make any sense to me because he has enough resources to pay them off without any problem. Something is funny about this."
Wilhelm lists $94,763 in secured debt tied up in a 1999 Mercedes ML 430 SUV, a 2000 Mercedes 320 sedan and a 2002 Dodge Caravan. He reports income of $414,070 in 2001 and $378,308 in 2002. In the first six months of 2003, Wilhelm states he's earned $85,000.
After his trouble with landlords, medical expenses take up most of Wilhelm's debt. He owes $7,644 to various hospitals or doctors in 2002. Other miscellaneous IOUs include a $1,435 bill from Charter Communications for cable TV and $284.71 owed to Blockbuster, the video-rental chain.
But the bulk of Wilhelm's trouble is with landlords.
Travers says he was unaware of his prospective tenant's radio alter ego, "D.C.," when Wilhelm applied to rent the house. Travers was won over by Wilhelm's proclamation of his faith.
"That's exactly what he told me and that's why I leased to him," Travers says. "I was nervous until he said, 'Well, I'm a born-again Christian. We're going to do good job for you and keep it nice.' That was the wrong thing to say. I got hooked into it."
Wilhelm rented from Travers for eighteen months, but broke his lease in October 2001 to move into another rental house in Chesterfield, this one owned by Scott Thomas. Thomas says Wilhelm quit paying rent in July 2002 and moved in November of that year to the Chase. Thomas sued for up to $25,000 for rent, fraud and damages to the property. Unlike the judgments awarded Travers and the Chase, Thomas' suit is still pending.
Wilhelm's current landlord, Donald Russeau, is part of the bankruptcy filing with $3,990 listed as "past due rent."
Thomas says that when he rented to Wilhelm and his wife, their credit history became apparent. "It's not just landlords. I had creditors of all fashions and forms calling me all the time looking for them." Thomas says before he rented to Wilhelm, he was unsuccessful in contacting any prior landlord, but he had checked his income and was familiar with Steve Shannon (real name: Terrence Trawick) and D.C. Chymes through their years on local radio.
When the Riverfront Timescaught up with Wilhelm, he explained his financial difficulties by saying he had nothing to do with them. Wilhelm says that his wife, Anna Marie Wilhelm, managed his finances. His current debt load, in addition to what he describes as several "frivolous lawsuits" pending against him due to his radio show, led him to seek Chapter 7 protection.
"We all make mistakes," Wilhelm says. "I have not been involved in my own financial matters. That's not the smartest thing. I certainly have learned a very important lesson from this."
Through much of the early and mid-'90s, the Steve and DC Morning Show was at or near the top of the ratings heap for morning drive-time FM shows. In the show's early years, sometimes their edgy on-air personas went over the edge.
In 1993, the duo was fired by WKBQ (104.1 FM) in St. Louis after they told a black woman caller that she was "acting like a nigger" when she complained about Shannon and Chymes' on-air comments. The jocks told listeners they opposed museums or TV shows devoted to blacks unless there were museums "about exclusive white contributions" or an hour on television devoted to white history.
After months off the air and "racial sensitivity" classes, the duo returned to the local airwaves only to wade back into trouble. In 1994, they aired an interview with a woman who alleged that KSDK-TV, Channel 5, weathercaster Bob Richards was harassing her after she broke off an affair. Two days after the interview, Richards was killed when he flew his private plane straight into the ground in a 400-foot nosedive. Suicide was suspected. A friend of Richards at the time said the interview on the Steve and DC Morning Show was what "broke" Richards.