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Bizarre new twists in Clayton bombing

Bizarre new twists in Clayton bombing

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A federal search warrant obtained by the Post-Dispatch connects a former Democratic campaign strategist to a Clayton bombing last year that seriously injured an attorney.

About two months after the October bombing, federal law enforcement officials searched the downtown loft of Milton H. "Skip" Ohlsen III, seeking "evidence related to the planning, execution, and/or cover-up of the bombing in Clayton, Missouri, on October 16, 2008." Ohlsen in recent weeks has been at the center of a swirling political scandal that is threatening the political careers of at least two Missouri Democratic legislators.

The Clayton bombing injured attorney John L. Gillis of the Armstrong Teasdale firm. But investigators now believe Gillis was not the intended target of the bomb that exploded next to his car in the parking garage at 190 Carondelet Plaza.

Instead, as the Post-Dispatch first reported Monday evening on STLtoday.com, authorities suspect the bomb was intended for Richard J. Eisen, a former Husch Blackwell Sanders attorney. Eisen has led legal battles against Ohlsen and had an office in the Clayton building that was bombed.

Eisen, now an attorney at Growe, Eisen, Karlen, Eilerts & Ruth, LLC, represented Ohlsen's ex-wife, Michelle, in a divorce that was filed in December 2007. He also represented a Maryland Heights man who obtained a temporary restraining order against Ohlsen.

Eisen and Gillis had similar cars - both owned an Acura TL - and they parked one floor apart in the garage, near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Eisen, a former president of the St. Louis County Bar Association, said Monday that authorities had not told him that he was the intended target of the bombing. "I can tell you that no member of any law enforcement agency has ever indicated that to me," he said.

The Clayton bombing has been one of the area's most prominent unsolved cases. Police had sought the public's help by releasing a security video showing a man carrying balloons and a package into the parking garage and later leaving without them. He was hooded and wearing a bright poncho, and his face was obscured by the balloons. They said they believed the bomb was in the package.

Ohlsen was arrested on federal fraud and firearms charges on Dec. 18, 2008, in an unrelated case, according to federal court records.

FBI agents searched Ohlsen's downtown loft twice after that, documents show. On Friday, Dec. 19, 2008, they showed up looking for firearms, bullets and financial documents. They returned on Dec. 22, seeking evidence relating to the Clayton bombing, according to court documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch.

It is not unusual for investigators to obtain a new search warrant to cover items spotted during a search but not covered by the original warrant, to prevent a defense lawyer from challenging them in court.

Ohlsen's attorney, Paul D'Agrosa, declined to comment on any connection between his client and the bombing investigation.

Authorities have never indicated publicly whether they have a suspect in the case. John Gillies, head of the St. Louis FBI office, declined to comment Monday on Ohlsen or the search warrant. When asked about the bombing investigation, Gillies said, "The investigation continues." (Gillies is unrelated to attorney Gillis.)

Jeff Fulton, assistant special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, also declined to comment.

ADVERSARIAL RELATIONSHIP

The investigation of Ohlsen centers largely on his adversarial relationship with clients of Eisen.

Eisen represented Ohlsen's ex-wife in their acrimonious divorce, which included allegations of infidelity, theft and abuse.

"He's unpredictable, he's quick to anger," Michelle Ohlsen said in a March 2008 deposition.

In the same deposition, Michelle says that her husband admitted he was having an affair while she was pregnant with their second child.

Skip Ohlsen also was charged with stealing an airplane that had been awarded to his wife in the divorce proceedings.

Another of Eisen's clients was Joel Hollenbeck, 32, of Maryland Heights, who said he has feared Ohlsen ever since he first talked to him on the phone in November 2007. That's when he found out Ohlsen was dating his estranged wife and spending time around his child.

"He said he was going to take everything away from me," Hollenbeck said.

In early 2008, Hollenbeck started a website about Ohlsen that included links to some of Ohlsen's criminal records.

"I thought he needed to be exposed," Hollenbeck said.

According to court records, in July 2008 - three months before the Clayton bombing - Eisen helped Hollenbeck obtain a temporary restraining order against Ohlsen, keeping him away from Hollenbeck's daughter. At the time, Ohlsen was dating Kimberlee Hawley, whom Hollenbeck was in the process of divorcing.

Hollenbeck said federal law enforcement officials have told him that during a search of Ohlsen's apartment they found fake IDs in Hollenbeck's name with Ohlsen's picture on them.

There also is an indication that Ohlsen, who was known for having high-end video and audio recording equipment, kept a collection of recordings, according to the search warrants. It is unclear whether those were of a political or personal nature.

In the Dec. 22 search of Ohlsen's apartment, FBI agents were looking for evidence related to the bombing, according to court documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch.

Agents also were looking for false IDs, police equipment, airline tickets, "evidence of surveillance of people or places," a poster board or other items with information "about people potentially adverse to Ohlsen" and photos, videos and other recordings.

According to the documents, agents seized computer equipment, "digital media CDs," digital videotapes, financial documents, airline documents, a poster board with names and pictures, a body bag, and an EMS badge.

But one resident interviewed by the Post-Dispatch said that someone moved items out of Ohlsen's apartment between the searches. The resident requested anonymity due to the nature of the allegations against Ohlsen.

POLITICAL CONNECTIONS

Ohlsen, 37, is the former Democratic operative involved in the federal investigation into the failed 2004 congressional campaign of Jeff Smith. Both Smith, now a state senator from St. Louis, and Steve Brown, a state representative from Clayton, have been involved in that federal inquiry, according to state government sources.

The FBI has said it will neither confirm nor deny an investigation involving Smith's 2004 run for Congress against eventual winner Russ Carnahan. During that race, Carnahan filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint alleging the campaigns of Smith and Joan Barry skirted federal law by helping produce anonymous fliers that were critical of Carnahan.

FEC investigators implicated Ohlsen as responsible for the fliers. Ohlsen told investigators he had numerous connections to the Smith campaign.

It's unclear what the connection is - if any - between Smith's investigation and the various investigations into Ohlsen. D'Agrosa, Ohlsen's attorney, has said his client is not cooperating with authorities.

Ohlsen's political consulting career was short-lived but reached to the top levels of the Missouri Democratic Party. He was introduced to party leaders by Nick Robinson, a political director for the United Auto Workers, and he ended up developing relationships with Gov. Bob Holden and Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell.

Democrats remember him as bold and brash, and bragging about his high-end video equipment. He did work in 2004 and 2005 for future senators Maida Coleman, Wes Shoemyer and Frank Barnitz, each time receiving payment to one of his companies, either Studio O Productions or Democratic Strategy Group.

Locally, he did political work for Mehlville school board member Mike Ocello, a strip club manager whose campaign was helped by video showing an opponent stealing a campaign sign. In 2005 and 2006, Ohlsen pushed Coleman's candidacy for auditor while she paid him about $12,000 for consulting work.

Ohlsen is scheduled to be sentenced on the mortgage and firearms charges in September.

Meanwhile, bombing victim Gillis, now 70, said Monday he was doing "reasonably well" after receiving a series of skin grafts to treat burns caused by the bombing.

"I had heard a rumor there was a car similar to mine ... and that guy may have been the target," Gillis said in a brief interview. "I never heard his name."

Gillis said he has spoken to law enforcement a few times since the incident, but told a reporter Monday that "you've told me as much as they have."

Patrick O'Connell and David Hunn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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