Scott also impressed the city council.

He said he was staying at the mansion of a St. Louis Blues player on Lindell Avenue and mentioned that he had just purchased a Bugatti (a super car that sells for north of $1 million) that was being shipped to him from Italy.

"He seemed like a very intelligent guy, and he had a lot of ideas," says Deletra Hudson, the city manager of East St. Louis, whose office Scott often visited during his riverfront dealings.

Scott told the city he had the ability to convince other big-time investors like himself to come in and pour development money all over the East St. Louis riverfront, despite the fact that the shoreline has been an unsolved riddle for the past 40 years.

East St. Louis mayor Alvin Parks admits taking a chance on Scott but says it cost the city nothing.
Bill Greenblatt/UPI
East St. Louis mayor Alvin Parks admits taking a chance on Scott but says it cost the city nothing.
Evening Whirl publisher Anthony Sanders sensed that his golfing partner wasn't who he said he was.
Tom Carlson
Evening Whirl publisher Anthony Sanders sensed that his golfing partner wasn't who he said he was.

Parts of the riverfront are federally owned, others lie in the hands of private landowners, which means attempts to develop broad swaths would involve negotiations with several actors — if they'd even be interested. Moreover, some of the riverfront tracts have unclear land titles that could spiral into nasty lawsuits for developers. Then there's the unsightly grain elevator directly across the river from the Gateway Arch. It sustains 300 precious jobs that the city doesn't want to see leave. Finally, there's the question of infrastructure: East St. Louis doesn't have it.

"If Coca-Cola wanted to relocate to East St. Louis tomorrow, it couldn't do it," says Andrew Theising, a political-science professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and an expert on East St. Louis. "The streets couldn't support the traffic, the sewers couldn't support the volume, and I have serious doubt if the electrical grid and communication infrastructure could handle a large industrial user."

Yet to Parks and other East St. Louis officials, perhaps all the city's riverfront needed was a fresh perspective.

"Maybe there is a guy who's 25 years old who really has got some ideas about how the acquisition of these properties can be done and who could lead us to the land of milk and honey," Parks explains. "Why not? Nothing else had worked until that point."

After just a few meetings with city leaders, the council voted unanimously in December 2009 to give Scott exclusive acquisition rights to the East St. Louis riverfront. The six-month deal would have Scott pump upward of $30 million into the area through his own company, ACI Capital. Once the money was delivered, the city would employ him as its financial manager for three years at an annual salary of $300,000.

Matt Hawkins, president of the Civic Alliance, a budget-watchdog group in East St. Louis, couldn't believe it. Hawkins had been warning the city council for several weeks that they really didn't know Scott like they thought they did.

Before getting the rights to the East St. Louis riverfront, Scott applied for TIF (tax increment financing) money from the city. Approximately 30 percent of the East St. Louis' general fund is tied up in TIF grants, which can only be used for specified projects, such as development.

But Hawkins, a thorn in the side of East St. Louis politicians for his constant calls for transparency (at the time of writing, he has pending lawsuits against the city demanding that it disclose budget details), got ahold of Scott's TIF applications and looked into his background. He couldn't confirm a single thing.

"Usually we can verify a person as bad, accurate or inaccurate. But when you can't verify anything, that's a sign of fraud," Hawkins says. "We made formal complaints to the city council asking that it not to do business with him and said as much in city-council meetings," he adds.

But the council ignored Hawkins and Civic Alliance's warnings and even expedited the vetting process. Whereas Hawkins says most city contracts take a couple of months to broker, Scott's deal was pushed through within a few weeks.

"Where did this guy come from?" asks Hawkins, who remains in disbelief five years later. "Scott was supposed to be from Wall Street. But they don't talk about East St. Louis on Wall Street. And not only did he get here, but he got the royal treatment. They don't do that for everybody."

According to Mayor Parks, Illinois state representative Eddie Lee Jackson, then a member of the East St. Louis City Council, is the one who brought Scott into the fold.

"This is a young man with ideas who you should listen to," Parks recalls Jackson telling him.

Parks says he doesn't know how Jackson and Scott met each other.

"Maybe Scott was a relative or something — I don't know," speculates the mayor.

Despite repeated calls, Jackson refused to comment for this story. Regardless of his connection to Jackson, the question remains: Why would city officials be so eager to enter into a deal with a man whose references didn't check out?

Whatever the case, the Scott deal was supposed to be a secret. Once Hawkins started snooping around, word got out. In January 2010 the Belleville News-Democrat broke the story about the virtually unknown Scott who had been given rights to the East St. Louis riverfront.

When reporter Carolyn Smith asked Parks to comment for the article, the mayor replied: "It's unfortunate that somebody has provided that information to you. That was supposed to be confidential information."

Five months later — in May 2010 — Scott would get much more favorable press when Ebony named him to the magazine's "Top 30 Under 30" list, profiling America's 30 most successful and up-and-coming black artists and entrepreneurs. In the story, Scott is praised for going from a homeless child to the millionaire CEO of ACI Capital by the age of 25.

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