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1992: Bill McClellan on the bizarre story of George Peach

1992: Bill McClellan on the bizarre story of George Peach

George Peach

Reporters surrounded former prosecutor George Peach outside the Cole County Courthouse after his sentencing Feb. 20, 1993. He had been arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for prostitution. 

Editor's note: On March 10, 1992, St. Louis Circuit Attorney George Peach, who prosecuted hundreds for prostitution crimes, was arrested for soliciting an undercover cop at a St. Louis County hotel. Here is Bill McClellan's column from that time.

"Say, honey, who's that masked man, standing out there on the ledge? It's just some guy wants a slice of life, upon the razor's edge."

THE SONG, by Danny O'Keefe, is from the perspective of a guy talking to a prostitute. I played it over and over Thursday night. I listened to the chorus - The money's just for the room, babe. The love is free - and I thought about the masked man standing out there on the ledge.

He is, or was, George Peach.

According to a police report, a female St. Louis County police officer posing as a hooker called Peach's private office number and asked for Larry Johnson.

Larry Johnson. That was the mask Peach apparently used when he wanted to climb out on the ledge.

So ''Johnson'' made arrangements to meet the ''hooker.'' The meeting was a sting, and Peach was busted.

Talk about bizarre.

There are a number of angles to this story.

First of all, solicitation is not a big deal, at least in my book. It's like getting busted for taking a bet or smoking a joint or renting a dirty movie. As far as I'm concerned, the state shouldn't concern itself with the so-called victimless crimes.

Heck, it's more honest for a single guy like Peach to go to a prostitute than it is for a married guy to run around on his wife - and the Democratic Party is getting ready to give its presidential nomination to a man who gives every indication that he ran around on his wife.

Furthermore, I've always felt that Peach has done a fine job as circuit attorney.

Any secret life on the edge didn't seem to have an impact on his ability to run his office.

But still, there is a problem.

Although I can't get worked up about victimless crimes, Peach could. And did.

Larry Johnson might have enjoyed standing out there on the ledge, but George Peach had no sympathy for the other guys out there with Johnson.

That's going to haunt him now.

On the other hand, this is obviously a ''personal problem,'' which is exactly the way Peach described it Thursday afternoon.

I mean, he's not some geeky guy who can't get a date and is living with his mother. If a guy like that wants to go to a prostitute, hey, it makes sense.

But Peach is nice-looking and witty. He's not a guy who would have a problem with women.

Obviously, the whole thrill was climbing out on the ledge, knowing that his whole career could go skidding over the edge in a second.

That is indeed a personal problem, rather than a public one.

As long as a public official is doing his work and isn't stealing money or using his public position to benefit himself or his friends, he's not really abusing the public trust.

Besides, I always prefer judges and prosecutors who have a few flaws. I thought it was healthy that Clarence Thomas got put through the wringer before he was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The people who administer the laws ought to have an understanding of what it's like to be on the other side of the fence.

So, I have no problem with Peach remaining on the job.

Of course, a lot of people will disagree with me. They will argue that a man who breaks the law has no business prosecuting others.

Well, that's an argument, I suppose.

Actually, the real question is whether Peach's political career can survive not the criticism, but the ridicule.

Criticism he has handled before.

Ridicule is something else again. It's the hardest thing for a politician to overcome.

And Peach is going to get it by the truckload.

Caped crusader by day, Larry Johnson by night.

The guardian of the public morals soliciting an undercover cop.

Friday morning, I called a police station on a totally unrelated story.

''You know what Peach had for breakfast today?'' a friend of mine asked. ''Trix.''

Then the cop quickly explained that he liked Peach and wished him well. He just wanted to pass on the joke.

I said I understood. I like to think that Peach does, too.

After all, this is something he knew might happen. It probably provided the real thrill when he first put on the mask and climbed out onto the ledge.

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