Top St. Louis City Leaders Indicted in Shocking Federal Investigation

Jun 2, 2022 at 6:55 pm
click to enlarge Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed speaks with reporters after a federal court hearing on Thursday - Monica Obradovic
Monica Obradovic
Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed speaks with reporters after a federal court hearing on Thursday

Three high-ranking city officials have been indicted for federal corruption charges relating to tax abatements after a two-and-a-half-year investigation conducted by the FBI.

Former 21st ward representative John Collins-Muhammad, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Ward 22 Alderman Jeffrey Boyd each face two charges related to bribery. Collins-Muhammad has also been indicted for a third charge of honest services bribery/wire fraud.

In addition to his two bribery charges, Boyd faces a separate, two-count wire fraud indictment for a 2021 scheme in which Boyd allegedly sought $22,000 from his insurance company for damage to vehicles that were not his.

At a hearing Thursday, all three co-defendants pled not guilty to the charges.

According to a 66-page indictment, Collins-Muhammad and Reed sought to help an anonymous business owner receive property tax abatement for a new gas station and convenience store in Collin-Muhammad’s ward. The abatement would have saved the business owner – identified in the indictment as John Doe – about $250,000 over the span of 10 years.

Prosecutors allege Collins-Muhammad and Reed accepted thousands of dollars in cash and gifts in exchange for helping Doe. According to the indictment, Collins-Muhammad allegedly accepted $7,000 in cash, $3,000 in campaign contributions, a new iPhone 11 and a 2016 Volkswagen sedan from Doe. Reed allegedly accepted $3,500 in campaign contributions and $4,000 in cash payments.

According to the indictment, Boyd may have also accepted cash in an amount up to $9,500 for assisting Doe in purchasing property in his ward from the city’s Land Reutilization Authority for a fraction of its cost.

According to Hal Goldsmith, an assistant prosecuting attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, the charges against Collins-Muhammad, Reed and Boyd were a result of an undercover investigation conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“That undercover investigation included the cooperation of a number of witnesses, the undercover recordings of literally hundreds of meetings and telephone calls, court ordered search warrants and phone orders, the review of thousands of text messages and email communications, as well as all traditional surveillance techniques,” Goldsmith says.

A subpoena issued by the FBI last month to the St. Louis Development Corporation for texts, voicemails, financial documents and other records at 5337 Von Phul Street and 4201 Geraldine Avenue, sheds some light on that investigation. Both properties are owned by Mohammed Almuttan, who was indicted along with 34 others in 2017 in an alleged scheme to buy low-cost cigarettes in Missouri and traffic them in New Jersey and Illinois. The scheme also involved synthetic drugs and money laundering. Almuttan owns several gas stations and convenience stores in north St. Louis city and county. KSDK reports Almuttan's charges were dropped in April. In May, Collins-Muhammad resigned from the Board of Aldermen amid a federal investigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Bodenhausen instructed Reed, Collins-Muhammad and Boyd to stay out of contact with one another as the case carries out. Bodenhausen said Reed and Boyd could converse “as long as their conversations are public” in situations such as Board of Aldermen meetings. Reed and Boyd both still serve on the City of St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

After the hearing, Reed said he did not plan to resign. He told reporters he does not expect his constituents to call for his resignation as “an indictment doesn’t mean guilt,” he said.

“The voters know me,” Reed said. “The voters know the 20-plus years that I have served. They know my record. Every major development in this city I’ve led for 20 years, so the voters have plenty on the record.”

click to enlarge John Collins-Muhammad (center) exits the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse after a hearing on Thursday. - Monica Obradovic
Monica Obradovic
John Collins-Muhammad (center) exits the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse after a hearing on Thursday.

Collins-Muhammad and Boyd did not respond to questions after Thursday’s hearing.

Allegations in the indictment date back at least to January 2020, when Doe requested Collins-Muhammad's help in getting a property-tax abatement.

Collins-Muhammad introduced multiple bills to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen for Doe to receive the tax abatement for his property. In January 2021, constituents in Collins-Muhammad’s ward learned about one such measure, Board Bill 108, and raised concerns about Doe’s planned development and the possible tax abatements the bill would provide. Collins-Muhammad then placed the bill on the board’s informal calendar, and it never moved on to final passage.

In October that year, a nearly identical bill sponsored by Collins-Muhammad passed the Board of Aldermen. It became effective in November.

According to the indictment, on January 28, 2021, Doe met with Reed, who was running for mayor at the time. Doe allegedly gave Reed $2,000 in exchange for Reed helping Doe obtain Minority Business Enterprise Certification for his trucking and hauling company. The indictment also alleges Reed "agreed to help John Doe get contracts for trucking and hauling on future city construction projects."

click to enlarge Ward 22 Alderman Jeffrey Boyd remains silent as reporters barrage him with questions. - Monica Obradovic
Monica Obradovic
Ward 22 Alderman Jeffrey Boyd remains silent as reporters barrage him with questions.

In a separate scheme, on July 25, 2020, the indictment alleges that Collins-Muhammad and Doe met with Boyd at Boyd's banquet facility. At the meeting, Doe gave Boyd $2,500 in cash for his assistance.

Boyd sent a letter to the Land Reutilization Authority saying he supported Doe paying $9,000 for a piece of land in his ward that was appraised for $459,000.

Later on, Doe texted Boyd a thank you message for the help.

Boyd texted Doe back, "My pleasure. I'm very PRO BUSINESS."

At another point, the indictment alleges that Doe repaired a 2006 Chevrolet Impala for Boyd for free. Boyd requested that he receive a receipt for the repairs and it be stamped "paid" despite the repairs being done for no charge. When Doe complied, Boyd allegedly responded "Wundebar." (Probably meaning wunderbar, German for wonderful.)

The indictment cites the specific ordinance that applies to aldermen, which states that, "No officer or employee shall, for private gain, grant any special consideration, treatment or advantage to any person. Nor shall any officer solicit or accept any payment or gift of money or any other thing of value for any service performed in his official capacity nor for the doing of any act which he is required by law to do."

If convicted of the main indictment, Reed could spend up to 10 years in prison and pay up to a $250,000 fine.

The maximum penalty for Boyd is five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Boyd’s additional wire fraud charges for the insurance scheme carries maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Collins-Muhammad’s bribery/wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. One of his two bribery charges could result in a 10-year maximum sentence and the other a five-year maximum, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.