Former Alderman John Collins-Muhammad Sentenced to 45 Months

The St. Louis native will go to prison on federal bribery charges

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click to enlarge John Collins-Muhammad walking into the courthouse on Tuesday to be sentenced in a federal corruption scheme.
John Collins-Muhammad walking into the courthouse on Tuesday to be sentenced in a federal corruption scheme.

Former Alderman John Collins-Muhammad was sentenced today in federal court to 45 months in prison for accepting bribes in exchange for securing a local businessman tax abatements on his properties.

Collins-Muhammad’s sentence marked the first of three former St. Louis city politicians to be sentenced today for their role in a bribery scheme which shook the city’s political landscape when it came to light in June.  The others are Jeffrey Boyd, former alderman for the 22nd ward, and former Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
Judge Stephen Clark said in court that sentencing guidelines suggested Collins-Muhammad receive between 37 and 47 months, and ultimately Clark chose a punishment on the harsher side of that range.

Prior to sentencing, over the course of about an hour, Collins-Muhammad’s attorney Joseph Flees, federal prosecutor Hal Goldsmith, members of the public, Judge Clark and Collins-Muhammad all spoke at length.

In arguing for a more lenient sentence, Flees told the judge that Collins-Muhammad was, “a political novice compared to his co-defendants." Collins was first elected to office in 2017 and is in his early 30s. Boyd was sworn in in 2003, and Lewis Reed served on the board for decades.

Flees went on to describe Collins-Muhammad as a young man in “a position of power and responsibility without the maturity to handle it.”

Flees argued that Collins-Muhammad’s fall from grace itself was a severe punishment. “He’s gone from alderman to Amazon,” Flees said, in reference to Collins-Muhammad’s working at a fulfillment warehouse to make ends meet.
Collins-Muhammad then spoke on his own behalf, saying forlornly that “things will never be the same.” He acknowledged that he now has to live in this new reality. “I don’t know how … but I have to,” he said.

Then it was prosecutor Goldsmith’s turn to address the judge and argue that Collins-Muhammad didn’t deserve leniency.

Goldsmith stressed that Collins-Muhammad had acted duplicitously. According to Goldsmith, Collins-Muhammad took bribes from businessman Mohammed Almuttan, promising to win him a tax abatement on a property where Almuttan hoped to build a gas station, while at the same time Collins-Muhammad was assuring residents of his own ward that such a gas station, which residents saw as a magnet for crime, would never get built.
“He was playing both sides,” Goldsmith said.

When Judge Clark asked the courtroom if any members of the public wished to speak, College Hill resident Teri Rose stepped forward. Collins-Muhammad had been Rose's alderman while in office and Rose accused her former alder of “out and out” lying at community meetings, including about Almuttan’s development project.

“He went from being an alderman to Amazon,” Rose said. “Now he needs to go from Amazon to the federal penitentiary.”

Right before he issued his sentence, Judge Clark asked rhetorically if Collins-Muhammad had been a statesman or a politician, adding that a statesman recognizes the weight of the responsibility of his office.

Though Clark did not state it explicitly, he seemed to indicate that Collins-Muhammad was more of a politician, saying that the former alderman went about accepting bribes as if it were “an uneventful way of doing business in the city of St. Louis.”

In addition to the 45-month sentence, Collins-Muhammad was also assessed at $19,500 fine and three years supervised release upon getting out of prison.

Collins-Muhammad will remain free on bond before reporting to the Bureau of Prisons to serve his sentence.

The RFT's Monica Obradovic contributed to this reporting.

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About The Author

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull
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