Hartmann: Sam Page Is Playing With Fire

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, shown in a file photo. - LEXIE MILLER
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, shown in a file photo.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith is a serious man. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page just sent him a most unserious letter.

That is not a great combination if you’re Page.

Over the past decade, Goldsmith has established himself as an exceptionally competent federal prosecutor with a specialty in public-corruption cases. Many public officials of both parties — most notably former County Executive Steve Stenger, whom Goldsmith successfully prosecuted for a pay-to-play scheme — can attest to this.

In the past month, Goldsmith rocked St. Louis government with four indictments, three in the city and one in the county. On June 2, it was announced that Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Aldermen Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins-Muhammed had been indicted on federal bribery charges.

Five days later came word that St. Louis County jail official Tony Weaver Sr., a Page appointee recently connected to a Page political ally, faced felony wire-fraud charges related to a pandemic-relief kickback scheme. (All four indictments were issued May 25, but it wasn’t until this month that they were unsealed.)

Two weeks ago, Mayor Tishaura Jones noted that Goldsmith may have just scratched the “tip of the iceberg” with the indictments in the city. It turns out that some folks in the county might be squirming, too.
Page certainly should be. In a moment of detachment from reality, Page fired off — and made public — a letter to Goldsmith related to the federal investigation of Page’s own government.

Written on the county executive’s official stationery, it contained a rambling diatribe slandering Page’s two most despised political enemies — Councilman Tim Fitch (R-Manchester) and attorney Jane Dueker, Page’s Democratic primary opponent on Tuesday, August 2. It was unbelievable.

Normally, a politician who writes something self-serving or political on public letterhead would hope that it doesn’t draw the attention of a U.S. attorney. This one was addressed to a U.S. attorney.

Page was triggered to write the letter by Fitch’s request that subpoenas Goldsmith had issued be released to the county council. The Post-Dispatch had made Sunshine Law requests in both the city and county for these public records.

In the city, the Post’s request was honored. In the county, both Fitch and the Post were stonewalled by Page and his Roy Cohn-imitator county attorney, Beth Orwick, who declared them off limits for public consumption. That made no sense, so Page decided to use Goldsmith for political cover.

“Out of respect for the important role federal law enforcement plays in ensuring that public officials act with integrity, I will defer to you concerning whether and how to address the council member’s inquiry appropriately,” Page wrote to Goldsmith. Page released the letter to the media.

Whether and how to address a political foe over his political criticism? That seems to have gotten Goldsmith’s attention.

What happened next should have been chilling to Page. On the day after Page’s June 13 letter came a June 14 response from Goldsmith. He didn’t even dignify Page with a direct answer. Instead, Goldsmith wrote to Orwick:

“In response to your recent inquiry, there is an ongoing federal investigation related to the grand jury subpoenas served upon St. Louis County, Missouri, which appear to be the subject of Dr. Page’s June 13, 2022 letter to our Office (referencing Councilman Fitch’s June 11, 2022 letter). It is St. Louis County’s decision whether or not those grand jury subpoenas are disclosable under the Missouri Sunshine Law or other applicable state or local law.”

Let’s unpack this a bit. Certainly, Goldsmith’s word choice “ongoing” was notable, as was the plural reference to “subpoenas.” But when he employed the phrase “which appear to be the subject of Dr. Page’s letter,” it read like prosecutorial sarcasm.

Regardless, Orwick could not have been surprised by Goldsmith’s response that it was the county’s decision as to whether the subpoenas are disclosable. She already knew that.

You see, Orwick held the same title of assistant U.S. attorney as Goldsmith in the same office before she was hired by Page in 2020. From all accounts, Orwick was a good prosecutor before she became a bad county attorney. It’s highly unlikely that she is unaware that the subpoenas are publicly disclosable, especially to the county council.

Even if she were unaware, certainly Sam Page is not. In 2019, when Steve Stenger was being investigated by Goldsmith, Page voted to release the subpoenas related to the investigation to the county council.

Page’s attempt to drag Goldsmith into his battles with Fitch and Dueker is beyond outrageous. It might even be dangerous.

Professional prosecutors are allergic to any perception that their work is politicized or partisan, so much so that Department of Justice policy is to avoid indictments of politicians in proximity to elections.

The last thing any prosecutor wants to receive is a publicly released letter from a public official writing on public letterhead that purports to let that prosecutor in on some dirty little secrets about political foes. One doesn’t do this to the feds.

But believe it or not, that isn’t the worst of this saga. Even more absurd was Page presuming to inform Goldsmith — without a shred of evidence — about alleged nefarious activities related to Stenger that he claimed involved Fitch and Dueker.

Did Page forget that Goldsmith is the one who prosecuted Stenger?

Specifically, Page claimed that Fitch visited Stenger in the days leading up to Stenger’s indictment to get a pension Fitch didn’t qualify for. Page accused Dueker of being a “close advisor and financial supporter of both Lewis Reed and Jeffery [sic] Boyd, who were also recently indicted by your office.”

Neither claim has any relevance to the question of whether county subpoenas should be released, especially the reference to relationships Dueker may or not have had with city politicians. Fitch had called for Stenger’s resignation on April 1, 2019 — four weeks before he was arrested.

Goldsmith had Stenger living in a fishbowl when the rumored misdeeds of Fitch and Dueker were alleged to have taken place. Goldsmith knew what Stenger had for breakfast every day back then. But he slept through scandalous conduct by a councilman and a close adviser?

That’s hard to explain. That is, until one considers the following modifying clause with which Page qualified his rumors in writing to Goldsmith:

“I don’t know this to be true from first-hand knowledge, but a county employee reported to their boss that … .” He actually repeated the “first-hand” qualifier a second time in his accusations against Dueker.

Yo, Sam. Just a little advice here. The next time you feel the need to start a sentence with third-hand claims in a letter to a U.S. attorney, don’t finish the sentence. Don’t finish the letter. In fact, don’t write a letter to anyone. Find something else to do.

There’s no indication that Page is personally under any sort of criminal investigation by Goldsmith or anyone else. But he has established a pattern — and reputation — for transactional political behavior that at best hugs the right side of the line that Stenger crossed.

In light of that, it was especially witless to insult Goldsmith’s intelligence with language that read like an argument among middle-schoolers. And placing that nonsense in the context of the Stenger prosecution was yet more ill advised.

This is what is known as tugging on Superman’s cape. And Sam Page better hope that it doesn’t turn out serious.

Ray Hartmann founded the
Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).
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