St. Louis Board President Lewis Reed and two aldermen indicted on federal bribery charges
A major public corruption case rocked the St. Louis political and civic scene Thursday after a grand jury indictment accused the Board of Aldermen president and two aldermen of accepting bribes in return for their support on real estate deals.
The indictment accuses Lewis Reed, board president since 2007, along with current Alderman Jeffrey Boyd and recently resigned Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, of misusing their public offices for money and other things of value.
The grand jury indicted the three men on May 25, but a judge unsealed the document on Thursday as they made their first appearances in federal court.
The sweeping 66-page indictment sets out an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving the three aldermen and an unidentified businessman who sought a tax break to develop a gas station and to buy a separate tract of property for well below its value. The indictment is rich with details and captures spoken and written conversations among the aldermen and the businessman.
Reed, Boyd and Collins-Muhammad all pleaded not guilty. A judge ordered the defendants to surrender their passports and not speak with one another.
Reed told reporters as he left the courthouse that he would not resign and planned to preside over Friday’s meeting of the Board of Aldermen. Some board members said they would not attend if he was there. On Thursday night Reed said in a statement that Alderman Joe Vollmer would preside over board meetings until further notice.
“I haven’t been found guilty of anything,” Reed said.
Reed said that he just received the indictment and that his attorney advised him to not comment further.
“I’ve been a good steward for the city, and I plan to continue to be a good steward to the city,” Reed said.
Boyd and Collins-Muhammad did not comment as they left the courthouse.
Collins-Muhammad resigned from the Board of Aldermen with little explanation last month. He wrote on Twitter that he had “made mistakes” and takes full responsibility for them.
“The weeks ahead will be tough,” he wrote. “I apologize to my family and to my constituents for my shortcomings and my mistakes.”
Boyd is accused in a separate criminal indictment of wire fraud, by backdating the purchase of three damaged vehicles, falsely claiming he bought them for $22,000, so he could attempt to get a payout from an insurance company.
The indictments amount to a political earthquake in St. Louis. An elected official since 1999, Reed wields considerable influence in St. Louis public affairs. Boyd has been on the Board of Aldermen representing the 22nd Ward since 2003. He chairs the city’s powerful Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee.
In all, the indictment said Collins-Muhammad took $7,000 in cash and another $3,000 in campaign contributions, a new iPhone and a car for his political support of the real estate deals.
Reed was said to have accepted $6,000 in cash and $3,500 in campaign contributions when he ran for mayor unsuccessfully in 2020. And Boyd took $9,500 in cash and free repairs to his cars, the indictment says.
In exchange, the grand jury found, the three men used their influence in favor of a person referred to in the indictment as John Doe.
The charges stem from an undercover investigation over 2½ years that included recordings of hundreds of meetings and telephone calls, court-ordered search warrants and the review of thousands of text messages and emails, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith.
A spokesperson for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said that she was “deeply troubled” by the allegations in the indictment and that her office would continue to monitor the legal proceedings.
What follows in the next two sections is an account from the indictment.
‘I got a vehicle I need to give you’
John Doe first approached Collins-Muhammad, who represented the 21st Ward until his resignation, in 2020 about securing a tax abatement. In St. Louis, people wanting property tax breaks have to obtain letters of support from the alderman who represents the ward where the land is located.
Doe wanted to build a gas station on a piece of vacant land in north St. Louis.
During a meeting on Jan. 24, 2020, Doe allegedly asked Collins-Muhammad what he would owe the alderman for a letter of support for a tax abatement. Collins-Muhammad suggested $2,500.
Later that day, Collins-Muhammad received the money.
“You’re saving me plenty of money,” Doe said.
“That’s our job,” Collins-Muhammad said.
As Collins-Muhammad shepherded the tax abatement proposal through the St. Louis Development Corporation and the Board of Aldermen, John Doe continued to provide the alderman with things of value.
At one point in 2020, Collins-Muhammad got another $1,000 in cash. Later that year, Collins-Muhammad received a free 2016 Volkswagen from Doe’s used car business. Collins-Muhammad would later receive repairs to his car, free of charge.
But the process to get the tax abatement dragged on into 2021, and Collins-Muhammad warned Doe not to start work on the gas station project until everything was completed.
“If you start construction now, like if you start tomorrow, that’s gonna be the taxes, if we don’t get the Abatement through,” Collins-Muhammad allegedly wrote in a May 11, 2021, text message to Doe. “Do not pay higher taxes on this property.”
Doe gave Collins-Muhammad more cash.
“Here’s $1,000, get it done,” Doe said. “I’ll have a nice package for you.”
“You always do,” Collins-Muhammad said as he accepted the money.
The tax abatement continued to stall, at which point Doe sought Reed’s help for the tax abatement, to obtain certification as a minority-owned business and a trucking contract. The indictment described how Doe used an automatic money counter to set out $2,000 for Reed.
“Help us out, we need a few contracts,” Doe said.
“Done,” Reed said.
On Aug. 26, 2021, Collins-Muhammad, Reed and Doe met at Reed’s campaign headquarters in south St. Louis. They discussed the tax break for the gas station project.
Reed urged Doe to slow down work on the project, reminding him that Collins-Muhammad was working to have the tax abatement approved later in the year.
“This is gonna save me at least a quarter-million dollars in the tax thing, you know,” Doe said.
Doe gave Reed $1,000 at the end of the meeting.
Doe and Reed met again in December 2021. Reed referenced the 2023 elections and was seeking $1 million in campaign funds. Reed asked Doe for $20,000.
Doe then brought up the tax abatement.
“Oh, hold on a second,” Reed said. “Let’s have a break between this conversation and that conversation. So that they’re not … legally, I can’t put them together in one meeting. So let’s finish this one and then … we’ll talk about that."
“OK,” Doe said. “Me, I don’t know too much you know, the legal stuff and all that. And I care less about it, you know what I mean?”
‘I’m very PRO BUSINESS’
Doe also wanted to buy land on Geraldine Avenue in Boyd’s 22nd Ward. The Land Reutilization Authority listed the property for $50,000.
Collins-Muhammad introduced the two on July 20, 2020. Doe said he also wanted a property tax abatement on the land.
Boyd told Doe to submit a low-ball bid for the property, and added he would give Doe a letter of support.
Doe paid Boyd $2,500 cash at the end of the meeting.
The following month, Boyd wrote a letter of support for Doe to the LRA.
“Thank you so much,” Doe said in a text message.
“My pleasure,” Boyd said. “I’m very PRO BUSINESS.”
In October 2020, the LRA offered to sell the land to Doe for $33,500. Boyd wrote a counteroffer for Doe to submit to the LRA, asking to buy the land for $16,000.
In December 2020, Boyd told Doe that he spoke with the LRA about selling the land to Doe for $14,000, which it ultimately agreed to.
That same month, Boyd asked Doe to make repairs to his van, which Doe agreed to do.
Boyd would later sponsor a bill to the Board of Aldermen that resulted in a substantial tax break for Doe’s project on Geraldine. In all, Boyd received $9,500 from Doe.
Signs of interest by federal authorities surfaced when the St. Louis Development Corporation received subpoenas for details about the purchase of two north city properties, at 4201 Geraldine Ave. and 5337 Von Puhl St.
The properties are owned by Mohammed Almuttan, property records show. Almuttan, who owns several properties and gas stations in the area, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The federal government indicted Almuttan on cigarette and synthetic marijuana trafficking charges in 2017. Court records show the government dismissed several of the charges after he pleaded guilty in April.
Requests for comment from the St. Louis Development Corporation were not immediately returned.
Tax abatements were proposed for both properties. Boyd proposed a 10-year, 95% tax abatement at 4201 Geraldine Ave., and former Alderman Collins-Muhammed proposed a 10-year tax abatement at 95% for 5337 Von Phul St.
The indictments are likely to send shockwaves through St. Louis’ aldermanic community, which Reed has helped lead as president since 2007.
The former 6th Ward alderman came to power that year after unseating Board of Aldermen President Jim Shrewsbury. He was the first Black person ever to take on that role, which has major power over the state’s financial matters as a member of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.
Reed ran for mayor unsuccessfully three times: The first was in 2013, when he mounted a failed challenge to then-Mayor Francis Slay. He also faltered in 2017 and 2021 in contests without an incumbent running.
While Reed was not successful in his bid for mayor, his bids for reelection as Board of Aldermen president were more fruitful. He faced minimal opposition to additional four-year terms in 2011 and 2015, and he managed to win a contentious primary in 2019 against state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed and Alderwoman Megan Green.
At the Board of Aldermen, Reed was often successful in building racially diverse coalitions in order to pass major legislation — including bringing the program Cure Violence to St. Louis and redrawing the Board of Aldermen’s ward maps.
But other policy proposals that Reed embraced were more controversial. For instance: He ended up supporting a plan to use city funds to build a riverfront professional football stadium, a decision that aroused criticism from some of the Board of Aldermen’s more progressive members. He also was more amenable to finding a private operator to run St. Louis Lambert International Airport — a proposal that died after it encountered a wave of criticism.
Boyd became the most senior member of the Board of Aldermen and was chairman of the powerful Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee. In that role, Boyd played a large role in approving major projects. That committee also doles out the city’s block grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Boyd, who served in the Army, first won election to the Board of Aldermen in 2003 by nine votes. While he has continually been elected to his north St. Louis-based 22nd Ward, even with major opposition, his efforts to win citywide posts have been less successful.
In 2012, Boyd was one of several candidates who unsuccessfully ran for city treasurer — a post that was eventually captured by then-state Rep. Tishaura Jones. He also made unsuccessful bids for license collector, mayor and treasurer.
Like Reed, Boyd often clashed with aldermen who identify as progressive, and he was a fierce critic of a plan to change the city’s redistricting process.
Collins-Muhammad had a more unusual pathway to office.
The former 21st Ward alderman took part in the protest movement that arose after Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson. He unsuccessfully ran for state representative in 2016, losing a close primary race to eventual victor Steve Roberts.
He chose to run for alderman in 2017 to represent the 21st Ward, a seat that was being vacated by Alderman Antonio French. Collins-Muhammad won a close victory in the primary — and was reelected in 2021.
During his time at City Hall, Collins-Muhammad was a leading critic of a bid to reduce the size of the board — contending it would diminish Black political power. He became a major ally to Reed both on the board and in the political realm.
Collins-Muhammad also emerged as a leader of protests that came about after former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith. He joined other younger Black elected officials in demanding changes to how law enforcement interacted with African American residents.
Recently, Collins-Muhammad was touting how the 21st Ward did not have any homicides for a portion of 2022 — something he attributed to residents, businesses and police working together.
Boyd is the most senior member of the Board of Aldermen and would have been slated to succeed Reed if he resigns. If both Reed and Boyd step down, Vollmer would likely be in line to take on the job of president.
Since 2003, Vollmer has represented portions of south St. Louis on the board — including the Hill neighborhood. In addition to his aldermanic duties, Vollmer is the owner of Milo’s Bocce Garden, one of the top spots in the city of St. Louis for bocce ball.
Vollmer is the chairman of the Board’s Legislation Committee, which recently was the forum where the Board of Aldermen’s ward map was redrawn. He also served as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, an entity responsible for crafting St. Louis’ budget.
In a text message to St. Louis Public Radio, Vollmer said that “at this point I'm unaware of any resignations.”
“Yes, I am next in seniority,” Vollmer wrote. “Just waiting to see what happens.”
An election for the presidency of the Board of Aldermen is slated for 2023. But if Reed resigns soon, it’s likely there will be a special election later this year. There would also be a special election for Boyd’s 22nd Ward seat if he chooses to step down.
Since Collins-Muhammad resigned earlier this year, a special election is slated to occur on Aug. 2. Laura Keys, who lost two elections to Collins-Muhammad, is planning on running for the post.
The 66-page indictment:
Kavahn Mansouri is the Midwest Newsroom’s investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @kavahnmansouri
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