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State Sen. Smith pleads guilty to conspiracy charges and resigns

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 25, 2009 - State Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, has pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice in the courtroom of Judge Carol Jackson. Sentencing is set for Nov. 10. Smith has resigned his seat in the Senate.

Smith faces stiff penalties, up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count.

Text of Smith's letter

To the Honorable Charlie Shields:

"I regret to inform you that I am resigning as state senator from the 4th district effective today, Aug. 25, 2009. It has been an honor to serve the city of St. Louis for the last three years. Constituents of the 4th district will continue to be served by office staff until a replacement is elected."

Smith told the judge that during his congressional campaign in 2004 against Russ Carnahan, he "became aware that an individual was planning an independent campaign" on his behalf.

Smith said he knew that it would be illegal if there were any coordination between an independent campaign and the candidate. Even so, he said, "I authorized Steve Brown to raise money" for the effort, and Smith said he instructed his campaign to give information on Carnahan's voting record to the person directing that effort.

That person, whom Smith did not identify in court, was Milton "Skip" Ohlsen III.

Smith also acknowledged that he was guilty of "filing an affidavit that was false" with the Federal Election Commission when it launched an investigation into Ohlsen's activities.

Smith said that when he learned earlier this year that the investigation had been reopened, he counseled Brown to lie to federal investigators, and "I misled investigators."

The FEC had initially closed its investigation in December 2007.

State Rep.Steve Brown, D-Clayton, has also pleaded guilty to one charge of obstruction and is expected to resign his seat this afternoon.  At a 12:30 p.m. bond hearing, Brown and Smith were freed on $10,000 unsecured appearance bond each. 

State Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, and state Rep. Steve Brown, D-Clayton, both plan to resign their seats this afternoon after appearing before a federal judge.

At a 12:30 p.m. bond hearing, Smith told another judge, Terry Adelman, of his plans to resign. Adelman indicated that Judge Carol Jackson, in whose court Smith was set to appear at 1:30 p.m., has set sentencing for him for Nov. 10.

As reported earlier, Smith and State Rep. Steve Brown, D-Clayton, were set to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice; the charges stem from Smith's unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2004.  

Brown and Smith were freed on $10,000 unsecured appearance bond each. Brown's sentencing date was also set for Nov. 17, following his appearance before Jackson. 

State Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis (far left), and state Rep. Steve Brown, D-Clayton, are both expected in federal court this afternoon. along with former Smith campaign treasurer Nick Adams.

Brown's lawyer said he will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The others are expected to make similar pleas, sources say.

Their appearance will likely end several weeks of rumors about their possible legal problems. The trouble stems from Smith's almost-successful 2004 bid for Congress, and then-anonymous postcards sent to thousands of 3rd District residents that disparaged a Smith rival, now-U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.

The court pleas today will, in effect, confirm the involvement of the Smith campaign in financing the postcards, sources say.

Smith's lawyer also has confirmed today's court appearance, but made no further comment.

Smith and Brown are expected to soon resign their legislative posts.

As we reported earlier---While state Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, is lying low, pending action by the U.S. attorney's office, his staff in Jefferson City is continuing to roll out press releases.

The latest one came out Monday afternoon, when Smith's office announced that the City Academy in St. Louis will receive a $7,373 grant from the Missouri Arts Council.

The release is the latest of several that have been issued by Smith's office in the last two weeks, even as rumors continue to swirl that he is likely to be forced to resign because of a federal probe.

Smith administrative assistant Christine Brauner said in a telephone interview, "Until we hear otherwise, our office is functioning as normal."

Brauner and legislative assistant Stacy Morse work out of Smith's office in the state Capitol. District assistant Johnny Little works in St. Louis.

Brauner said she hasn't seen Smith since the last weekend in July, when he hosted a three-on-three basketball tournament in St. Louis.

St. Louis lawyer Kevin O'Malley confirmed Monday that he is Smith's lawyer, but declined to make any further comments.

Sources have said for weeks that the senator is in legal trouble with the U.S. attorney's office because of statements he made -- or didn't make -- to federal investigators looking into a 2004 complaint filed fellow Democrat Russ Carnahan with the Federal Election Commission.

Carnahan and Smith were rivals in a 10-Democrat primary of the congressional seat that Carnahan now holds. Smith came in a close second.

In recent months, sources say the federal probe has extended to state Rep. Steve Brown, D-Clayton, a close friend of Smith's.

Smith has told associates that he might have to resign his state Senate seat. But as of late Monday, no resignation has been submitted to Gov. Jay Nixon, Nixon aides say.

On Aug. 13, Smith told Washington University that he needed to resign as a political science instructor, prompting cancellation of a class he had been scheduled to teach this fall. On Monday, the university's campus newspaper -- Student Life -- published reaction from students, former campaign aides and faculty.

Meanwhile, Smith continues to dine and hang out with friends, including state Rep. Don Calloway, D-St. Louis.

Calloway said Monday that there is little or no talk of "the substance of what's going on with him," and that the aim of the senator's friends is "to take his mind off of this crazy stuff."

"He's in good spirits," Calloway said. "A bunch of people have reached out to him to show their support. It's sad that he's having a tough time."

The whole matter has been doubly troubling for Calloway, who also is one of Brown's roommates in a Jefferson City apartment rented by several legislators for the five-month legislative session.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.