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Press Release

Pine Lawn Mayor Pleads Guilty to Extortion Charges

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri

St. Louis, MO – The mayor of Pine Lawn, Missouri, SYLVESTER CALDWELL, has pled guilty to charges involving the extortion of cash payments from the owner of a local towing company and from the owner of a Pine Lawn convenience store.

According to court documents, from December 2013 through April 2014, special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") were conducting an ongoing public corruption investigation into the activities of defendant Sylvester Caldwell ("the defendant"), who was Mayor of the City of Pine Lawn, Missouri. As Mayor, the defendant exercised authority and control over which towing company provided the primary towing service for the City of Pine Lawn. During the public corruption investigation, the owner of a towing company, who was cooperating with the FBI, met with the defendant on several occasions for the purpose of making cash payments to the defendant at the defendant’s request, in order to remain as the primary towing service for Pine Lawn.

On at least five occasions, the defendant met with the tow company owner at various locations within the Eastern District of Missouri and accepted cash payments, which the defendant had requested in exchange for continuing to give work to the towing company. These payments included the following: December 20, 2013 - $300; December 30, 2013 - $200; January 16, 2014 - $300; February 21, 2014 - $500; and March 27, 2014 - $300. At times, the defendant used coded language when requesting the cash payments. For example, the defendant commanded the tow company owner to place "green Mountain Dew in a cup," which was code for directing that the cash be placed in a disposable cup and handed to the defendant. The defendant also induced payments by threatening to use a competing towing company.

From at least February 2013 through September 2014, Mayor Caldwell also extorted numerous payments of money from the owner of a convenience store known as Pine Lawn Market. Defendant attempted to disguise the payments as donations to the City of Pine Lawn. The owner paid the money to defendant out of fear that defendant would make trouble for the store. The owner of the store also allowed defendant to take goods from the store out of fear that his business could suffer economic harm if he refused.

Caldwell, Florissant, Missouri, pleaded guilty to one count of Attempted Extortion and one count of Extortion before United States District Judge Catherine D. Perry. Sentencing has been set for July 7, 2015.

Each of these charges carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, a judge is required to consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide recommended sentencing ranges.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Reginald Harris and Anthony Franks are handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Updated April 14, 2015