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Former St. Louis County employee pleads guilty in COVID relief scheme

Anthony Weaver walks from the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Anthony Weaver, left, walks out of the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse after pleading guilty to federal wire fraud charges alongside his attorney, Timothy Smith, on Friday in downtown St. Louis.

Updated at 4:05 p.m. Oct. 21 with scenes from the hearing

A past staffer to both St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and a former councilwoman has admitted to trying to defraud a pandemic relief program.

Anthony Weaver, 63, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to four felony counts of wire fraud. U.S. District Judge Stephen Clark set sentencing for Jan. 25. Sentencing guidelines call for him to face less than two years in prison. Federal prosecutors are not seeking any restitution.

Weaver declined to comment when he left the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

The scheme

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, St. Louis County set up a small-business relief fund using $17.5 million in federal CARES Act money. Businesses were eligible for up to $15,000 in assistance to help them cover the cost of shutdowns.

In May 2020, Weaver, then working in Page’s administration, approached the business owner, identified only as "John Smith," and encouraged him to lie on applications for those grants. Though Smith owned several businesses, none was impacted by COVID-related closures.

Weaver had previously worked as an administrative assistant for Rochelle Walton Gray, at the time the 4th District councilwoman. He told Smith that despite no longer working in Gray’s office, “They’re going to do what I tell them to do.”

The two men had agreed to split the proceeds of whatever grants Smith received. Ultimately, Smith did not get any small-business relief.

Conversations included in the indictment indicate that Weaver also helped at least 10 other businesses fill out applications, but most “didn’t believe” in paying him money.

The indictment also indicates that John Smith is the same person as a local businessman identified only as "John Doe" in the federal corruption case against three former St. Louis aldermen.

Weaver was still working as an administrator at the county jail when he was charged in June. Page fired him as soon as the indictment was made public. At the time, the county executive said that controls put in place for the small-business relief program “prevented any theft of taxpayer funds, and the indictments are not related to work he was doing for the County Executive in Justice Services.”

Page did not have any additional comments on Friday. Gray, who lost a reelection bid to Shalonda Webb in August 2020, did not comment.

Scenes from the courtroom

Weaver, dressed in a black suit with a blue shirt and blue patterned tie, entered the courtroom on the 14th floor shortly before the hearing began. He appeared to wince in pain when asked to rise and be sworn in, and he answered the questions posed to him by Clark while seated at the table reserved for the defense.

At times, Weaver paused before answering questions, as if he realized the magnitude of the proceedings. For example, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith laid out the narrative of the allegations, Clark asked Weaver if he did, in fact, do what he was accused of, Weaver very slowly answered yes.

And when Clark asked Weaver if he understood the rights he would give up as a convicted felon, including the right to vote, Weaver took his time before responding that he did.

There was a brief moment of confusion when, after Clark asked him how he wished to plead, Weaver responded, “not guilty.” Weaver then glanced quickly at his attorney, Timothy Smith, and changed his answer to guilty. Clark followed up several times to clarify Weaver's intent.

Weaver will be allowed to remain out on bond before his sentencing. He has been working at Macy’s since being fired by St. Louis County, where he was making more than $82,000 a year, according to a database of local salaries.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.