3 former St. Louis councilors sentenced to prison for accepting bribes

ST. LOUIS – A federal judge sentenced former Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and former aldermen John Collins-Muhammad and Jeffrey Boyd to prison Tuesday for accepting bribes from a local businessman in exchange for tax breaks.

Collins-Muhammad and Reed each received sentences of three years and nine months, and Boyd was sentenced to three years.

Councilors receive judgments

Former Councilman John Collins-Muhammad walks to the Thomas F. Eagleton US Courthouse with his wife, Asia Collins-Muhammad, to be sentenced on federal corruption charges Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022.

Jordan Opp, Post-Dispatch

Collins-Muhammad pleaded guilty to theft and bribery, extortion and fraud; Reed pleaded guilty to theft and bribery and racketeering; and Boyd pleaded guilty to theft and bribery and two counts of fraud.

Collins-Muhammad apologized Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Clark, the citizens of St. Louis and his family.

“This has made me take a hard look in the mirror,” Collins-Muhammad said. “I’m not the elected official I wanted to be.”

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Boyd also apologized, telling the judge: “The facts are, your honor, I did something.

Formerly St.  Louis mayor Jeffery Boyd convicted

Former councilor in St. Louis Jeffrey Boyd and his wife Patrice Johnson-Boyd walk out of federal court in St. Louis past the media without taking questions after he was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

David Carson

Collins-Muhammad must also pay a fine of $19,500 and Boyd must pay a fine of more than $23,500.

The three aldermen were indicted after an investigation that lasted 2 1/2 years and involved surveillance, hundreds of hours of recorded phone calls and meetings and thousands of text messages and emails, according to prosecutors. The key player was a local businessman, facing federal charges of his own, who distributed bribes in exchange for help receiving tax breaks and buying a city-owned property for less than it was worth.

In all, prosecutors said Reed received $18,500 in cash and campaign donations, Collins-Muhammad received $10,000, a new iPhone and a 2016 Volkswagen CC sedan, and Boyd received $9,500 and free car repairs.

The federal investigation began in 2020 with a business owner the Post-Dispatch has identified as Mohammad Almuttan.

Almuttan co-owns and operates several gas stations and convenience stores in northern St. Louis and northern St. Louis County, and he was one of 35 people charged in 2017 in connection with a cigarette and synthetic marijuana trafficking sting. All but one of his charges were dismissed in April as part of a mistrial. He is appealing his sentence of four years.

The federal investigation into the aldermen involved two of his properties.

The first was a new gas station and convenience store on Von Phul Street near Interstate 70 in Collins-Muhammad’s 21st Ward. Collins-Muhammad, and later Reed, helped Almuttan seek tax breaks that he said would save him up to $250,000 over time. Throughout the process, Almuttan gave them money and campaign donations in return, according to the indictment.

“Do cash instead of checks?” Almuttan asked Reed, according to a conversation described in the indictment.

“It will work, yes,” Reed replied.

Doe then counted out $2,000 with an automatic teller.

“It’s nice,” Reed said.

Lewis Reed arrives for sentencing

Former President of St. Louis Board of Alderman Lewis Reed (left) walks into federal court in St. Louis for his sentencing on corruption charges with his attorney Scott Rosenblum on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@ post-dispatch.com

David Carson

On another project, Boyd helped Almuttan buy a commercial property on Geraldine Avenue in Body’s 22nd Ward from a city authority that owns thousands of vacant lots and abandoned buildings throughout St. Louis.

Boyd said the site could be worth more than $100,000, but he wrote a letter to the authority’s director in August 2020 supporting a $9,000 offer for the property, according to the indictment.

Almuttan, identified as “Doe,” thanked Boyd.

“I’m glad,” replied the alderman. “I’m very PRO BUSINESS.”

The authority’s board accepted Almuttan’s offer of $14,000 for the property. Boyd also promised to help him get a tax break on the project.

Almuttan eventually gave the land back to the city.

Boyd also faced charges in a separate fraud case in which he fraudulently sought $22,000 from an insurance company for damaged vehicles he lied about owning.

News of the charges came in June and changed city government.

By then, Reed had served more than two decades as a councilman and board president; Boyd had served his North Side ward for nearly 20 years and was chairman of the City Council, which handles development; Collins-Muhammad was a rising political star and the first Muslim councilor in the city’s history.

Their resignation led to a shift in the city’s political leadership from moderate Reed to progressive Megan Green. It also focused on the tradition of alderman-friendly courtesy in St. Louis policy, which dictated the development of a specific ward, must be supported by the councilor who represents it.

In August, all three men pleaded guilty to the charges.

Councilor receives judgments

Former Councilman John Collins-Muhammad, second from left, walks out of the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, with his attorney, wife and supporters after being sentenced on federal corruption charges. Photo by Jordan Opp, jopp@post-dispatch.com

Jordan up

Collins-Muhammad’s attorney Joe Flees said as he left the courthouse Tuesday that his client was hoping for a different outcome but was not surprised by the verdict.

“I hope that one day the citizens of St. Louis remember the good deeds he did and not just the behavior in this case,” Flees said.

Collins-Muhammad will have to report in four to six weeks, Flees said.

Both Boyd and Collins-Muhammad declined to comment as they left court.

Reed’s attorney Scott Rosenblum said as they walked out that his client was a “special person.”

“I have no doubt that he will rise like a phoenix from these ashes,” he said.

Prosecutors filed a memo last week that included images that appeared to be screenshots of surveillance videos showing all three aldermen accepting cash bribes.

They wrote that the aldermen’s behavior was part of an unfortunate pattern of public officials being jailed for corruption in St. Louis region. Prosecutors previously cited St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who accepted bribes in the form of campaign donations and was sentenced to three years and 10 months; state representative TD El-Amin, who accepted a bribe and was sentenced to 18 months in prison; state representative Courtney Curtis, who stole campaign funds and was sentenced to one year and 9 months; and St. Louis Alderman Larry Arnowitz, who misused campaign funds and was sentenced to a year in prison.

In their own court memos, each former councilor outlined the circumstances that led them to seek public office and submitted letters of support from local officials, business people and activists, as well as friends and family.

They all asked for leniency.

This is a development story. Check back for updates.

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