ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Three current or former members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, including the board’s president, were federally indicted Thursday for allegedly awarding a local businessman tax abatements in exchange for bribes.
President of the STL Board of Aldermen Lewis E. Reed, 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey L. Boyd and former 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad Jr. were all named in the indictment.
Collins-Muhammad officially resigned on May 11, citing “shortcomings and mistakes” he made while in office, though he did not specifically mention the impending indictment or the accusations included in it.
Real estate tax abatement is designed to ease the financial burden of businesses completing renovations and new construction projects by freezing the tax assessment at the pre-development level. In St. Louis, business owners seeking tax abatement must obtain a letter of support from the alderman whose district the construction would occur within.
The business owner who allegedly provided bribes to the aldermen, referred to as “John Doe” in the indictment, reportedly owned several small businesses and properties across St. Louis and St. Louis County. Doe sought to receive tax abatement for the construction of a gas station/convenience store in Collins-Muhammad’s ward.
In January 2020, talks between John Doe and Collins-Muhammad began to devise a plan to illegally award the unnamed businessman with his desired abatement. Doe received Collins-Muhammad’s aldermanic letter of support for a 10-year property tax abatement on Jan. 21, 2020.
Three days later, on Jan. 24, 2020, Collins-Muhammad met with Doe at his business to figure out the bribery amount that was owed to the alderman for his illegal dealing, according to official documents.
“What I owe you for this?” Doe asked Collins-Muhammad.
“25,” the former alderman answered, allegedly referring to $2,500 cash in exchange for the illegal awarding of the tax break, which Collins-Muhammad swiftly collected later that day around 4 p.m., the indictment says.
This first instance of illegal dealing by St. Louis officials, the indictment says, was only the start of a “stream of cash payments, campaign contributions, an automobile and other things of value” that were to follow.
Collins-Muhammad didn’t just accept bribes, according to the allegations. He also facilitated bribery payments from the unnamed businessman to other public officials in St. Louis government, perhaps revealing an even larger corruption issue than is contained in the indictment.
On June 17, 2020, Collins-Muhammad and John Doe discussed a public official, referred to as “Public Official One,” who Collins-Muhammad promised could obtain government contracts for John Doe’s trucking and hauling company. The two agreed to split any profits gained from the government contracts awarded by Public Official One.
“Throw [Public Official One] something,” Collins-Muhammad told Doe. “If you don’t throw him something, he’ll never come back.”
“10 is good,” he told Doe, referring to a $10,000 alleged bribe to the official in exchange for the government contracts.
“I’ll give it to him tomorrow,” Doe responded. “I’ll have 10 for him and I’ll have, how much for you, John?”
“Whatever you give me, me and you have a relationship,” Collins-Muhammad responded.
The next day, June 18, 2020, Collins-Muhammad is alleged to have facilitated a meeting between himself, Public Official One and John Doe in which Doe gave the public official the agreed-upon $10,000 cash. After the meeting, Collins-Muhammad received an additional $3,000 cash reward from Doe for setting up the encounter.
On the same day, Public Official One is said to have returned the $10,000 cash and instead asked for two separate $5,000 check contributions to his Political Action Committee, which Doe provided.
Although John Doe never received the government contracts, and the two $5,000 checks were never cashed, Collins-Muhammad still facilitated and participated in a clear-cut bribery scandal, the indictment argues.
Doe and Collins-Muhammad continued their talks of illegal dealings, and the alderman continued to collect a bevy of payments from the businessman, the indictment says, although he repeatedly lied to Doe about the progress of awarding the abatement and it was never successful.
Reed, the aldermen president, allegedly joined the corrupt dealings in January of 2021. Court documents say Reed met John Doe on Jan. 28, 2021 while Reed was running for mayor of St. Louis. On that day, Reed allegedly agreed to illegally help Doe obtain a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification for his trucking and hauling company, as well as agreeing to help Doe obtain business contracts on future city construction projects.
In exchange for Reed’s agreement and “use of his official position to assist and support John Doe in obtaining MBE certification and trucking contracts,” the indictment says, Doe gave Reed $2,000 cash.
Over the next several months, John Doe gave Reed campaign contributions totaling $3,500 and four additional cash payments totaling $4,000, allegedly in exchange for Reed supporting Doe and helping facilitate the illegal dealings.
Although the businessman was forking up an impressive amount of cash payments and campaign contributions, he was apparently only used as a cash cow for the St. Louis government officials. After it was all said and done, Reed’s promise fell through as well, and Doe never received the MBE certification nor the contracts with the city of St. Louis.
Collins-Muhammad is portrayed in the indictment as having an affinity for getting paid to facilitate corruption among his colleagues and the businessman, and on July 20, 2020, he allegedly brought alderman Boyd into the mix.
Collins-Muhammad is accused of introducing Doe to Boyd in order for Boyd to make a backroom deal to support the businessman’s proposed purchase of a city-owned property. Collins-Muhammad allegedly set up a meeting between himself, Doe and Boyd to discuss how the 21st ward alderman could help Doe secure the property.
At the end of the meeting, Doe gave Boyd $2,500 in cash in exchange for his “agreement, assistance and use of his official position to support John Doe’s effort to purchase the city-owned property,” the indictment says. Immediately after the meeting, Collins-Muhammad is said to have received yet another $1,000 cash payment in exchange for setting up the meeting.
On Nov. 13, 2020, Boyd not only wrote his aldermanic letter of support for Doe’s purchase of the city property, but he drafted the actual counter-offer for Doe and directed the businessman on the best way to submit it, according to the indictment.
On Dec. 16, 2020, under “Boyd’s urging and request,” the city accepted Doe’s counter-offer of $14,000 to buy the property, $56,000 less than what the city originally asked for.
The trio of alleged corrupt St. Louis aldermen, the indictment says, continued to receive a substantial amount of payments from the businessman – sometimes for promising action and backroom deals, and other times for simply sitting down to discuss the deals.
Collins-Muhammad is facing three felony charges, while Reed and Boyd are facing two counts each. The full indictment and a complete list of the bribery payments and alleged corruption can be found here.