Former St. Louis County employee gets 18 months in prison for COVID relief scheme
Updated at 5:45 p.m. Jan. 26 with comments from County Executive Sam Page
A former staffer to two St. Louis County officials has been ordered to spend 18 months in federal prison for his role in a federal COVID relief scheme.
The sentence imposed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Stephen Clark on Anthony Weaver was on the high end of federal sentencing guidelines, which had called for 12 to 18 months in prison. He was also fined $10,000 and will be on supervised release for three years after he serves his prison time. Prosecutors did not seek restitution because no funds were fraudulently distributed.
Weaver, 63, pleaded guilty in October to four counts of wire fraud. He will report to prison at a later date.
Weaver did not comment as he exited the courthouse, but his attorney, Timothy Smith, called the scheme “one snippet” of his client’s life.
“I think it would be inappropriate to take one snippet of a person’s life and judge that person by that one snippet,” Smith said. “Mr. Weaver is 63 years old, and for most of those 63 years, he has been a model citizen and pillar of the community.”
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 County Executive Sam 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 councilwoman from the 4th District. He told Smith that though he no longer worked 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. Page had repeatedly said controls put in place for the program “prevented any theft of taxpayer funds.” In court, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said it was only the program running out of money that kept John Smith from receiving the financial assistance.
When asked after the hearing, Goldsmith made no comment the apparent discrepancy.
A spokesman for Page, Doug Moore, said money was still available when the business owner initially submitted his applications that May. The process required a second document that sought more details about the businesses, Moore said. When the business owner did not send the second document, the applications were declared invalid.
"The process worked," Moore said. "Mr. Weaver’s actions are disappointing and not tolerated in County government. The court agreed and now Mr. Weaver must pay for his crime."
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.
Prosecutors sought to portray Weaver as “someone who abused his position of public trust solely out of greed and for his own personal gain.”
“It doesn’t get much worse than attempting to obtain CARES Act grant funds through a fraudulent scheme such as that perpetrated by defendant here,” Goldsmith wrote in the government’s sentencing memo. “Had the defendant’s scheme been successful, it would have diverted much needed grant funds from legitimate business applicants which actually had to close their doors and lay off employees during the pandemic.”
Although the businesses in question never received funding, Goldsmith wrote, it would be wrong for the judge to view the scheme as a victimless crime.
“Our public officials should be held accountable for their criminal conduct by appropriate prison sentences; the victim citizens deserve it, and fairness and justice require it,” he said.
In initially asking for a sentence of two years' probation, including eight months of home confinement, Weaver’s attorney Timothy Smith cited his client’s diabetes, high blood pressure and prostate cancer. He also disagreed with the government’s attempt to classify Weaver as a person in a position of public or private trust who had management authority.
Weaver was no longer working for Gray at the time of the scheme, Timothy Smith wrote. And despite Weaver’s bragging that the people in Gray’s office would “do what I tell them to do” and that “I’m too powerful, brother,” there was no evidence that he actually attempted to contact anyone working in the office.
“John Smith was not induced to utilize my client’s service because my client previously worked for Councilwoman Jane Doe,” Timothy Smith wrote. “On [the] contrary, John Smith was a government informant who was simply attempting to limit his own criminal exposure or punishment by working for the government or setting up others.”
After Clark overruled most of Timothy Smith’s objections to the government’s presentence report, the attorney in court requested a sentence of a year and a day.
John Smith is believed to be Mohammed Almuttan, who was the local businessman central to the federal corruption case against three former St. Louis aldermen. Almuttan pleaded guilty last April to a single count of conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes, but he is appealing his four-year prison sentence.
Scenes from the courtroom
Weaver, wearing a black suit, entered the courtroom on the 14th floor shortly before 11 a.m. and took a few minutes to confer with his attorney before the hearing began. He stood at the podium with his hands in his pockets and answered questions from Clark in a precise tone.
“I apologize for my actions,” Weaver told the court, before taking a moment to compose himself. “I am embarrassed. I am sorry. I hurt my family, supporters, and the community and organizations I have volunteered for. I am asking for me to continue to be able to support my family and my community.”
Clark, who also presided over the St. Louis aldermanic corruption cases, did not appear moved.
“There was no stress of soul,” he said, repeating a phrase he used often in the other case. “You perpetrated a pay-to-play scheme based on power, corruption and greed.”
In fact, Clark said, had it not been for Weaver’s spotless criminal history and extensive community involvement, he would have gone outside the federal guidelines and issued a longer prison sentence.
Smith asked that his client be able to serve his time in the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. Weaver was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019, the attorney said, but doctors recently determined that it was necessary to start treatment, likely with radiation.
Support for Weaver
Nearly a dozen people, including a state representative and members of Weaver’s family, submitted letters to the judge urging leniency.
“We were all dismayed when we heard the news of the investigation into what I believe was Mr. Weaver’s sincere attempt to help someone, that simply took a turn in the wrong direction,” wrote state Rep. Marlene Terry, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. “Mr. Anthony Weaver is not beyond redemption. We urge you to consider allowing him to repay his debt to society with community service. It’s where his heart has always been.”
Weaver’s wife of nearly 40 years, Linda, highlighted her husband’s work distributing food, personal care items and toys to residents in need, and his involvement in his children’s school. “Anthony is an outstanding citizen. I am proud of him,” she wrote.
“My father has made mistakes in his life, but the good outweighs the bad,” Anthony Weaver Jr. wrote. “I pray you take this letter of support into consideration so he can continue to be a positive influence in this community.”
Anthony Jr.’s wife, Chevon, spoke of her father-in-law as someone for whom she had great respect.
“I’ve observed Mr. Weaver be a voice for the voiceless, a protector for the unprotected, and he has always stood for the fair treatment of people,” she said.
Prosecutors did not submit any statements in support of their position.