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Newly released photos show St. Louis aldermen taking thousands in bribes

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday released a dozen photos that show three former St. Louis aldermen accepting bribes from an undercover informant.

ST. LOUIS — Federal prosecutors on Tuesday released never-before-seen photos of three former St. Louis aldermen, including former President Lewis Reed, accepting bribes from a north St. Louis gas station owner-turned-undercover FBI informant.

The dozen date-stamped photos, released as part of a sentencing memorandum for the three men, show Reed, Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins-Muhammad sitting across from Mohammad Almuttan at various times between May 2021 and March of this year.

While Almuttan is referred to as “John Doe” in court filings, a source familiar with the investigation identified him as the informant who wore a wire while bribing the three disgraced aldermen.

In August, Reed and Boyd pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for voting favorably on legislation authorizing tax breaks on property owned by Almuttan. Collins-Muhammad pleaded guilty the same month to charges of bribery, racketeering and wire fraud.

"I think every elected official should be on alert. They should be very careful, and they should not cross any lines because the Feds are clearly watching," St. Louis University Law professor Anders Walker said of the unexpected photographs.

"This is a very political prosecution. These are popular figures in the city," he said. "There [are] probably some questions about why exactly the federal government is going after them, and whether maybe they trumped up some charges."

Reed's attorney, Scott Rosenblum, told 5 On Your Side Tuesday he doesn't understand why prosecutors would release the photographs, expressing concerns about their inclusion. 

John Collins-Muhammad's attorneys said they want their sentencing summary to speak for itself, in which they ask -- in part -- that,"...the court to look beyond the headlines and consider all aspects of his character and life when weighing its decision...," he said. "[Collins-Muhammad] is a person who is worthy of a chance at redemption."

Prosecutors said Collins-Muhammad was the first of the trio to take so-called "walking-around money" in January 2020.

After Collins-Muhammad gave Almuttan a letter of support for a tax abatement, Almuttan asked Collins-Muhammad -- "What do I owe you for this?" to which Collins-Muhammad replied, "25."

Almuttan gave Collins-Muhammad $2,500 and expressed his appreciation.

"No problem at all. That's our job as an alderman. We're supposed to help out business owners," the former alderman replied.

Collins-Muhammad then introduced Almuttan to "Public Official One," and told him, "...that he should be prepared to pay a $10,000 cash bribe in order to obtain...trucking contracts."

"Should I throw him something?" Almuttan asked.

"F--- yeah, you should throw him something. Yeah, you should throw him something. If you don't throw him something, he'll never come back," Collins-Muhammad said.

“Public Official One” has not been identified.

Collins-Muhammad also introduced Almuttan to Boyd and told him how much money he should give him.

“How much [cash] should I bring him?” Almuttan asked.

“Wait first, let’s, let’s uh…20…2,000? 25?” Collins-Muhammad said.

“2,000? 2,500?”

“No. Yeah, yeah, 2,000, you can give him 2,500. That or 3—2,000 would be good.”

Almuttan gave Collins-Muhammad additional money for setting up the meetings, which Collins-Muhammad readily accepted, prosecutors said.

In August 2021, Reed accepted $1,000 and agreed to help Almuttan obtain a property tax abatement.

“You’ve got our support, so we’ll get things done for you. If you need us for anything, let us know. Let me know anything, anything you need, you know we got you...we got you,” Reed told Almuttan.

Earlier in the year, Reed accepted “substantial bribes” from Almuttan relating to Reed’s agreement to help him secure city trucking and hauling contracts.

Boyd first met with Almuttan in July 2020 and accepted a bribe of $2,500 to provide assistance with buying a city-owned property in Boyd’s ward at a “substantially reduced price.”

“So, I’ll bid like 7, $8,000?  $10,000? I’ll give you my company’s information, and you can…,” Almuttan told Boyd.

“Yeah, just send me an email and say, ‘Hey, look, I’m going to be applying for this, this is what I want to do and blah, blah, blah.’ Then, I’ll take what you give me, and I’ll do a letter of support. Say I support blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and all that,” Boyd said.

Boyd also separately pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud for trying to defraud the insurance carrier of a car dealership he owned of several thousand dollars for damaged vehicles he lied about owning.

“Boyd’s true self [is] a schemer looking for any way to make a dollar, even if it entailed violating the law for his own personal gain. As the recordings and email communications reflect, the fact that [Boyd] became agitated with what he perceived to be the insurance company’s slow processing of his claim reveals his total lack of concern that his claim was in all respects, false.

“In order to get the insurance company to process his claim quicker, [Boyd] actually doubled down on his fraud and falsely represented that he was incurring daily storage fees for the damaged automobiles. That is a level of audacity and greed in his criminal conduct that should not be overlooked by [the court],” prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memorandum.

Prosecutors are asking Judge Stephen R. Clark to sentence Reed and Collins-Muhammad to 37 – 46 months in prison, and Boyd to 30–37 months in prison.

"It is the position of the United States that anything less would ignore the extent of these defendants’ criminal conduct and the substantial harm defendants’ conduct caused to the public.

"There are real victims in this case—the citizens of St. Louis who make their homes here or who operate their businesses here, whose taxes paid the salaries of these defendants, who follow the rules and who have every right to expect their elected officials to follow those same rules, and whose trust in our system of government has been diminished by the criminal acts of these defendants," prosecutors said.

In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors invoked other former St. Louis area elected officials who were convicted of public corruption crimes, including St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, Missouri Reps. T. D. El Amin and Courtney Curtis, Pine Lawn Mayor Sylvester Caldwell and St. Louis Alderman Larry Arnowitz.

Prosecutors also said the fact that Reed, Boyd and Collins-Muhammad resigned from the Board of Aldermen should have no bearing on the length of their sentences.

“In a public corruption case such as this, removal from public office or resignation from one’s elected position is the ordinary and inevitable result. There is nothing extraordinary about defendants’ actions in this regard.

“Any suggestion by defendants that their resignations from elected office should inure to their benefit at sentencing should be rejected by [the court]. Instead, [the court] should hold these defendants to a higher standard of conduct precisely because of their public positions.”

When FBI agents showed up at the men’s homes in May, all three lied about accepting bribes or providing “favorable legislative action.” Boyd also lied about owning the vehicles that were at the center of his fraudulent insurance claims.

“Only after being confronted by the agents with the irrefutable evidence contained within the undercover photographs and recordings did these defendants acknowledge their criminal conduct. Apparently, in the minds of these defendants, if there are no pictures or recordings, there is no crime to admit,” prosecutors wrote.

Lewis served as aldermanic president since 2007. He was also part of the city's Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a three-person panel including the mayor and comptroller that decides where money will be spent.

Boyd was first elected 22nd ward alderman in 2003. He served on several committees, including as chairman of the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee.

Collins-Muhammad was elected to his first term as 21st ward alderman in 2017. He also served on several committees.

“Only significant prison sentences will adequately reflect the seriousness of the offenses, promote respect for the law, and provide just punishment for defendants’ criminal offenses. After all, public service is a public trust. These three defendants broke that trust here and should be justly punished,” prosecutors wrote.

Attorneys for Reed and Collins-Muhammad recently filed motions opposing a recommendation that the former aldermen repay about $18,500 and $19,500, respectively, in federal bribe money. Reed, however, said he would pay a fine equal to the amount he took.

Also on Tuesday, Collins-Muhammad's attorneys filed a memorandum asking the court to sentence their client five years probation and community service, citing his "lack of significant criminal history, his upbringing and his history of good works."

"A sentence of incarceration is not necessary to punish him given the punishments he has and is facing," they wrote.

The attorneys also addressed Collins-Muhammad's objection to repaying the bribe money.

"The 'need to deprive the defendant of illegally obtained gains from the offense,' should be balanced against other considerations including whether John can actually pay it. The money is spent so he cannot be deprived of illegally obtained gains he no longer possesses," they wrote. [We ask] the court to consider the punishment John is receiving is sufficient to compensate for this loss to the government, an expenditure the government chose to make in an effort to ferret out criminal activity."

The three former aldermen are free on bail until their sentencing hearings on Dec. 6.

Almuttan, the informant, was sentenced last month to four years in prison and two years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes. 

As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors dropped charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and analogues, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, conspiracy to money launder and money laundering.


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