ST. LOUIS • Former employees told the FBI that St. Louis Treasurer Larry Williams not only knew about ghost, or no-show, employees on the payroll, he looked out for them, an agent testified in federal court Thursday.
An ex-worker also claimed to have done outside work for Williams during business hours, Special Agent Monique Comeau said.
Comeau said former employees of Williams' office spoke of an "external security" squad that was supposed to monitor parking meter operations but included employees who got paid without working. She was told Williams at one point was "taking care of certain individuals" on the squad.
Comeau's statements came during a court hearing called in a defense challenge to the criminal case against Fred Robinson, a treasurer's office employee indicted in September on one count of wire fraud and seven counts of federal program theft.
Prosecutors claim Robinson looted more than $250,000 of public money from the now-defunct Paideia Academy charter school to use for his side job, a day-care business, and took as much as $175,000 via his no-show job with the city.
Williams, a longtime Robinson friend, was also on the Paideia board.
Robinson has pleaded not guilty and denied the allegations.
Williams did not return a call Thursday seeking comment. He is not seeking re-election this fall.
Asked Thursday afternoon about the allegations, Shirley Rukcic, a supervisor in Williams' office, said: "Nobody's wanted to comment in the past. I wouldn't expect that anyone would want to comment on it."
In court, Comeau said multiple former employees knew of Robinson and told her they were not aware of any legitimate work he was doing.
Another former employee told Comeau that Williams took him to Paideia to set up the computer system there for hours at a time on multiple occasions during work hours.
After the first interview with a former treasurer's office worker, Comeau tailed Robinson on Dec. 8, 2009, as he left his house and drove to a diner and then the charter school.
After the other interviews, she conducted spot checks of Paideia and she and others later watched his house for four nights, presumably to see if he was working a night shift.
Then they attached a GPS tracking device to his car on Jan. 22, 2010. In a hearing last year, Comeau said that the tracking records showed that Robinson had been lying on his time sheets, pretending to work for the treasurer when he was actually working his second and third jobs.
After a U.S. Supreme Court decision tossing out a criminal case where a search warrant authorizing a GPS tracking device had expired, Robinson's lawyers renewed their challenge to its use in his case, saying there was no probable cause.
On Thursday, Felicia Jones, one of Robinson's lawyers, challenged the information provided by "disgruntled employees," pointing out that several lost their jobs when Williams outsourced parking meter operations and three have since sued.
Under questioning by Jones, Comeau provided the names of several employees who were alleged to be ghosts but said at least some were later determined to show up for work.
Comeau admitted that she had not spoken to Robinson's supervisors and didn't know whether he was working nights or out sick while she was checking up on him. She later said that she was conducting a covert investigation at the time and didn't want to alert Williams or others.
Comeau said that in 17 years with the FBI, she had never had occasion to install a GPS tracking device before, but it was approved by prosecutors and her supervisors, based on case law at the time.
Robinson lawyer Diane Dragan focused on another challenge to the case, saying federal prosecutors are overreaching in trying to police alleged corruption among city workers. Dragan said the treasurer's office gets no federal funds, and even if they did, Robinson would have no control over the funds.
"If Mr. Robinson stole his city salary, then the city can prosecute him," she said.
His lawyers also have asked to have the case moved out of St. Louis due to the publicity.
No decision is expected on any of the defense challenges for at least two weeks.