The Resurrection of Carl Officer

East St. Louisí prodigal son is back ó but is he the man to save Sin City?

As the meeting drew to a close, it became evident that Officer's venom was not directed at Parks but at the kingmakers who'd anointed the city manager-to-be.

"If you think I've been a thorn in your side up until now," the mayor addressed Powell, Jackson and Russell, "I'm gonna be on you like white on rice, like stink on shit. Whatever I can do to get rid of the three of y'all, I'm gonna do it. Every single breath of my day is gonna be concentrated on getting rid of the three of you from public service."

As the events of the next two months unfolded, Officer would discover that his frustration was shared by two powerful cohorts: the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"If you're an Officer in East St. Louis, you're just like a 
Kennedy," says East St. Louis City Council member 
and mayoral nemesis Charlie Powell.
Jennifer Silverberg
"If you're an Officer in East St. Louis, you're just like a Kennedy," says East St. Louis City Council member and mayoral nemesis Charlie Powell.

Five dollars and a sandwich is the going rate for vote buying in East St. Louis -- or so it has been alleged by many people, for many years. Political corruption is one of the worst-kept secrets in a city rivaled only by Chicago for its purported capacity to cast votes for dead folks or to make a ballot box disappear.

"East St. Louis has had a negative image since the cowboy days," says nursing-home operator Pat Gibson. "Nothing shocks me anymore."

But even in a town inured to having its elected officials paraded in shackles before federal grand juries, the indictments of January 21 packed an unprecedented wallop.

On that Friday, the FBI apprehended four government employees, including two key department heads, on charges ranging from perjury to conspiracy to kill a federal witness. One of the department heads, police chief Ronald Matthews, resigned shortly after his arraignment. Matthews and his secretary, Janerra Carson-Slaughter, were each charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for their alleged roles in helping a member of Matthews' auxiliary force, a convenience-store owner and ex-con named Ayoub "Dave" Qattoum, illegally obtain a firearm. Qattoum faces the same charges, plus a count of unlawful possession of a firearm. An additional charge of perjury was leveled against Matthews for allegedly providing false testimony to a federal grand jury.

"He's pled not-guilty to all counts and intends to defend himself," says Matthews' lawyer, Stephen Welby, whose client's trial date is May 10.

On March 15 Carson-Slaughter and Qattoum entered guilty pleas to the conspiracy and firearms charges leveled against them; in exchange, the government dropped the outstanding charges. Sentencing is scheduled for June 13.

"Obviously, we want to bring all the favorable information available to the court's attention in support of Ms. Carson-Slaughter," reports Carson-Slaughter's lawyer, Scott Rosenblum.

Qattoum's lawyer, Jim Stern, declined to comment on his client's case.

Meanwhile, the revelation that East St. Louis' auxiliary police force included a convicted felon led to the subsequent dismissal of 22 of the unit's 58 officers, after background checks revealed that they too carried substantial rap sheets.

As serious as those charges are, they pale in comparison to the plight of Kelvin Ellis, the city's director of regulatory affairs. A precinct committeeman and integral cog in the Powell-Jackson political machine, Ellis ascended to his post despite having served 21 months of hard time on a federal extortion charge in 1990, when he was employed as the city's personnel director during the first Officer administration. This time around Ellis is charged with three counts of income-tax evasion and four counts of obstruction of justice -- one of which involves tape-recorded conversations during which Ellis allegedly contracted for the murder of a government informant. (For highlights from the tape transcripts, see "Problem's Over" in the January 26 Riverfront Times.)

That allegation, in turn, sheds new light on rampant but unfounded rumors that Ellis put out a similar hit on former city manager Harvey Henderson, who died in 2002 after mysteriously falling from an overpass. (Illinois State Police classified Henderson's death as accidental.)

Ellis, who is being held in prison without bail, was snared via wiretapped conversations with Deputy Police Chief Rudy McIntosh, who'd offered his services to the FBI as an informant. A little more than a week later, McIntosh, a former undercover narcotics officer who is currently a precinct committeeman and a candidate for East St. Louis township supervisor, was put on paid administrative leave pending a state police investigation into whether he shot and killed Floyd Reese in 1979. (McIntosh, a nineteen-year-old civilian at the time, confirms he was at the scene of Reese's murder but denies having played a role in the unsolved crime, which occurred during an altercation involving a dice game.) The East St. Louis Police Department's internal-affairs unit is also looking into whether McIntosh and three of his fellow officers joined the force without having earned either a high school diploma or GED -- a benchmark requirement. McIntosh says he earned the equivalency degree after being expelled from high school.

Also revealed at Ellis' January 29 detention hearing were allegations that the defendant had been operating a prostitution ring from his office in city hall.

"In all my years of public service, I could never have imagined these allegations against a municipal employee," Officer says of the charges faced by his former director of personnel. "This is a small southern Illinois community. There's no oil here. Yet these boys play politics at a level found nowhere outside of Chicago or New Orleans.

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