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"[Jakob] told the cops he was going to get $22,500 to purchase meth or meth ingredients from [a suspect], undercover," Trest goes on. "And the Gerald cops told me they were in the process of renting a trailer, with audio and video equipment and everything, to set that up."
The officers told Trest that it had been Jakob who insisted they set free all the suspects rather than send them to the county jail. "He said, 'We don't want Franklin County involved. We'll have the feds come and get them when we get the case pulled together,'" she recounts.
Then Jakob announced he was "going overt," the officers said, and he needed the city to officially bring him onboard.
At the end of the interview, Trest says, she looked up from her notebook at Brad Landwehr, a city alderman who had sat in on the meeting.
"'This is big,'" Landwehr told Trest. "I said, 'I know,'" she says.
"He said, 'No, this is CNN-big.'"
A few years ago, after serving for more than a decade as a Gerald alderman, Otis Schulte ran for mayor. He says that before the election his wife wanted to build a new house right outside the city limits, "just so I couldn't run for anything again."
Instead Schulte built the biggest house in Gerald, with a three-car garage and a special room for his model-train collection. After winning a first term by a landslide, he squeaked by with only a fifteen-vote margin in his re-election campaign post-Jakob, this past April.
Schulte says his mother's ancestors founded Gerald back in the nineteenth century. His grandfather was Gerald's first doctor. His mother penned a history of the city in 1976. Until recently Schulte worked two jobs, hauling cars for Chrysler during the wee hours and manning his hardware and lumber store by day. In his spare time he likes to draw architectural plans for businesses that want to come to town.
In the midst of erecting the town's new veterans' memorial and dreaming up possible bigger projects, like a community center, Schulte says, the Bill Jakob scandal was small potatoes, a distraction.
"Look," he says as he conducts a tour of the town, "I was watching an old Andy Griffith Show the other night. In 1961 a guy came to Mayberry as — guess what — a fake FBI agent. Somebody called me and told me to check it out. I recorded it. So it's not like we're the only people this has happened to."
Adds the mayor: "None of us on the council can see why it was such a big thing."
After Jakob confessed to his conniving on May 12, 2008, Schulte and the aldermen called a closed session. Four hours of discussion later, they resolved to fire Chief McCrary, Bill Jakob and two Gerald officers.
Schulte says he hoped that would be the end of the saga. Instead he faced a recall by petition and a barrage of bad headlines.
The mayor blames Linda Trest, saying, "She just kept pointing out all the negatives."
Residents are divided over the Jakob scandal's impact. Some think that regardless of his false credentials, he did wonders for the town. Others decry the scare tactics and civil-rights violations.
Twenty-nine people, many of them among those arrested, filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming Jakob and the Gerald police violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. They seek $7.25 million in damages.
"This case is about what kind of society you want to live in," says their St. Louis attorney, Bob Herman. "Do you really want to live in a society where the police can come and break down the door at any time? Because that's what they did. There are many people in the world who do live in such a society, and we don't, and the only thing that makes the difference is the Fourth Amendment."
John Borbonus, a St. Louis-based lawyer who represents Gerald in the case, contends that the suit is misguided. "This isn't about a bunch of cops breaking down doors. It's about everybody being duped by one exceptionally good con man," Borbonus argues. "Look at this guy's record: He was born telling lies.
"If you want to talk about victims here, you can't stop at these people who were arrested, many of whom were [guilty of] what they were arrested for. If you want victims, you don't stop with them, because the whole city, its officials and its police department were victimized."
Linda Trest concedes that she approached her story with some bias. "I knew these people personally. I knew who I could believe and who I couldn't. I knew some of [the arrestees] were definitely innocent."
Schulte begs to differ. "Most people in town don't know the people who's doing the so-called lawsuit," says the mayor. "I had a citizen say the other day, 'Would you vote to not give known drug people money, or would you vote to break a city? You give them money, and they'll go buy more drugs, and turn around and sell them in the city.'
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