Snakes in the Office

Copperheads invade a local real-estate company, but former employees say the biggest snake of them all is their ex-boss.

"I'd say at least 50, but it could be as many as 60 or 70, but probably not 75," says Dielmann. "I'd have to count."

Back at Blake & Davis, employees say the defection fueled Peterson's paranoia. He began his practice of taking his computer tower home with him each night and constantly locking the door to his office. He started calling himself the "Wizard of Oz," as he basked in his new role as sole owner of the firm. Soon after Dielmann's exit, employees say he organized a staff meeting for the sole purpose — it seemed — of vilifying his former partner.

"He used to stay up all night obsessing about these presentations," recalls a former staffer. "By the look on his face, it was evident he hadn't slept in days. The whole presentation was how Andy 'abandoned' us. It was never about how we were going to pick up the pieces and move on. We were hemorrhaging staff and he was more concerned about who's right or wrong."

Jennifer Silverberg
Is this the grin of a successful businessman or a snake-releasing psychopath? Steve Peterson's former employees say it's the latter.
Jennifer Silverberg
Is this the grin of a successful businessman or a snake-releasing psychopath? Steve Peterson's former employees say it's the latter.

On July 24, 2005, police responding to a 911 call arrived at the Peterson's O'Fallon home to find Kathy bruised and shaken. Minutes earlier, at approximately 12:13 that Sunday afternoon, police report that Steve Peterson allegedly attacked his wife by "grabbing her by the throat and throwing her to the floor."

The cops note that Peterson also bit his wife, leaving teeth marks from both his upper and lower jaws. When they attempted to place him under arrest, the police say Peterson was uncooperative. "An arm bar was used to stop the immediate resisting, yet he remained rigid and stiff during the entire hand cuffing," writes the arresting O'Fallon police officer, Mike Magrew. "He was advised to stop resisting multiple times."

In a restraining order filed against Peterson later that day, Kathy Peterson provides a more descriptive account of the assault. She claims the attack occurred following an argument and that that his assault also injured the couple's daughter.

"Steve was holding my daughter Lucy (two years old) in his left arm," reports Kathy in her restraining order. "As he lunged forward at me, Lucy's head swung and hit the wall. Steve put his hand around my throat and pushed me to the floor choking me. I lunged for his pants pocket to get my cell phone and he leaned over and bit my right forearm. I was unsuccessful getting the phone — he grabbed my right arm and kept slamming it on the end of the bed frame. He finally gave me the phone and I called 911. The officers took photos of my neck and bite marks on my arms."

St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Banas says the assault qualifies as a Class A misdemeanor that could carry a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. As with any domestic assault, Banas says his office plans to prosecute Peterson to the full extent.

Kathy Peterson won't say what she and Steve were arguing about prior to the assault. On the advice of her attorney, she declined comment for this article. The couple's divorce filings, however, reveal that the marriage was not an honest one — at least when it came to the couple's finances.

In a petition before the court Kathy alleges that shortly after the couple wed in April 1999, Peterson and his sister Laura devised a plan to defraud her of some $1.8 million in inheritance and other funds. The siblings carried out the plan by persuading Kathy to transfer her nest egg to several accounts, one of which was accessible to both Steve and Laura Peterson.

The ultimate goal, according to her lawsuit, was to transfer all funds from accounts in her name into the account also controlled by Steve and Laura. Money from this joint account was then used to pay the expenses on a 17-acre farm in Defiance that Steve and Laura purchased together in 1995. To conceal the conspiracy, Kathy alleges her husband physically removed the mailbox from the couple's home, thus preventing her from intercepting financial statements that would tip off the scam. Without the mailbox, all the couple's mailings were sent to Blake & Davis.

Kathy later funneled $350,000 to the property when Steve allegedly called her in January 2003 to falsely report the farm risked immediate foreclosure. According to the suit, her husband promised to repay her within a week of making the loan but never did. Later, Peterson allegedly duped her into signing a title document that cleared any claim she had to the property. Peterson says he's unaware of any of these allegations.

Last month Steve Peterson added to the couple's ever-growing divorce file. In a complaint filed September 14, Peterson charges that eighteen months earlier — in February 2005 — Kathy arrived, visibly upset, at his Chesterfield office. Peterson alleges Kathy pushed him into a cabinet and hit him in the face, causing bruising and lacerations. He's asking the court to award him $25,000 in punitive damages for the assault.

Just as Peterson's divorce case was heating up last summer, employees say conditions at Blake & Davis were spinning further out of control. In spring 2005 Briarcliff Condominium Association sued Peterson and Blake & Davis on charges that the owner and his company mishandled funds, over-billed the association and refused to turn over the condominium's financial records. The court dismissed Peterson of personal wrongdoing but demanded that his Blake & Davis pay Briarcliff $79,000 in damages.

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