Former City Clerk Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Stealing $487,000 from Struggling North St. Louis County Municipality
ST. LOUIS – A former St. Louis alderman pleaded guilty Tuesday to all charges against him and admitted taking bribes in the form of a series of cash payments, a car, a phone and campaign contributions to help a local business owner get a property tax abatement.
John Collins-Muhammad pleaded guilty in front of U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Clark to two bribery-related charges and one charge of honest services bribery/wire fraud. As part of his plea, he admitted assisting a business owner obtain a multi-year property tax abatement. The business owner, referred to in court documents as “John Doe,” was developing a property in Collins-Muhammad’s 21st ward.
Beginning in January 2020, Collins-Muhammad accepted a total of $13,500 in cash, $3,000 in campaign contributions, a Volkswagen CC sedan and an Apple iPhone 11 from Doe in exchange for his continued agreement, assistance and use of his official position to provide the property tax abatement for Doe’s property.
After Doe’s development in Collins-Muhammad’s ward received opposition from residents of his ward, Collins-Muhammad falsely represented to the residents that he would not put forward the development for tax incentives. Nonetheless, Collins-Muhammad continued to take legislative action to provide the tax abatement for the development and continued to accept cash and other things of value from Doe.
While the legislative actions were pending, Collins-Muhammad told Doe not to start construction so Doe wouldn’t jeopardize the promised tax break.
His co-defendant, former Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, joined Collins-Muhammad’s efforts to obtain the promised tax incentive for Doe during August 2021. Thereafter, Doe made cash payments to Reed and continued the cash payments to Collins-Muhammad, the plea agreement says. Reed even promised to override a mayoral veto to pass the tax abatement legislation, the plea says.
Ultimately, in 2022, the efforts of Collins-Muhammad and Reed paid off, and the Board of Aldermen passed legislation providing the promised tax abatement for John Doe’s property development.
Collins-Muhammad did not report the campaign contributions to the Missouri Ethics Commission or deposit any of the cash payments into a bank account.
Collins-Muhammad also introduced Doe to other public officials and suggested he pay cash for their official assistance for other projects. After a June 18, 2020 meeting arranged by Collins-Muhammad with a public official who could purportedly help Doe win government contracts for his trucking company, Doe gave the official $10,000. Collins-Muhammad got $3,000 for setting up the meeting.
The official returned the cash that day and told Collins-Muhammad to instead have Doe write two $5,000 checks to the official’s campaign account. The checks were never cashed or deposited and Doe never received any contracts. Collins-Muhammad then told Doe that the official wanted $2,500 in cash, but Collins-Muhammad used the money to buy a 2008 Chevrolet Trailblazer for his own use.
Collins-Muhammad also introduced Doe to co-defendant Jeffrey Boyd, the alderman of a ward in which Doe wished to purchase city-owned property for a development, and told Doe to give Boyd $2,500 cash. Doe gave Collins-Muhammad $1,000 for setting up the meeting, and began providing cash payments to Boyd, the plea agreement says. Boyd ultimately helped Doe purchase the property and also passed legislation in the Board of Aldermen to provide a tax abatement for Doe’s proposed development, the plea agreement says.
Collins-Muhammad is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6. The honest services bribery/wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. One of his bribery charges carries a 10-year maximum and the other has a five-year maximum.
The FBI investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith is prosecuting the case.