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Federal subpoenas to St. Louis County sought information on 14 grant applicants

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St. Louis County jail official who worked for former councilwoman indicted

Tony Weaver declines to comment to members of the media as he leaves the Thomas F. Eagleton federal courthouse in St. Louis on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. Federal prosecutors have charged the St. Louis County jail official with four counts of wire fraud in a scheme to fraudulently obtain COVID-19 relief funds for a local businessman and split the proceeds.

CLAYTON — Federal investigators sent three subpoenas to St. Louis County for records on 14 businesses that applied for one-time $15,000 small business grants as part of an investigation into an alleged attempted fraud scheme by Tony Weaver, an ex-jail official indicted last month on federal bribery charges.

The indictment of Weaver, unsealed June 7, outlined how the jail “change management coordinator” and former legislative assistant to ex-Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-4th District, filed four fraudulent grant applications for a businessman in exchange for agreeing to split the proceeds.

Not one of the four applications was successful, according to the indictment. Page fired Weaver from the jail job he gave him in late 2019 as soon as the indictment was unsealed.

The county received three federal subpoenas, on Sept. 20 and Sept. 28, 2021, and Jan. 5 of this year. The first appeared to target the businesses that are the subject of the indictment, owned by a businessman identified only as “John Smith.”

Based on other records, the Post-Dispatch has identified the man as Mohammed Almuttan, a gas station and convenience store operator.

The subpoena sought records for Mally 3 LLC, a limited liability company at 100 Shepley Drive that is on land owned by Almuttan. Weaver was recorded in the indictment listing a business at “Shepley” as one of the applicants he had helped in exchange for a bribe.

The subpoena also sought records on Mally’s Laundromat and Mally’s Supermarket at 7455 West Florissant Avenue and Mally’s Supermarket at 2455 West Florissant Avenue.

A second subpoena Sept. 28 sought records on two businesses tied to an owner that appeared to be a “C.K.” mentioned in the indictment against Weaver.

Weaver was recorded telling John Smith that he helped 10 other individuals apply for the small business grants.

“But see, they don’t believe in giving me money,” Weaver said in a conversation with Smith. “Only two of them believe in, like, ‘OK, take care of me, Tony, and I’ll get you.’”

Weaver is recorded saying he was upfront with the applicants he helped, telling them “you’re going to have to pay me.”

Weaver said one of them, identified as “C.K.” in the indictment, told him to “give me a number.”

Weaver said he’d wait until the money came in to provide a figure.

Later in the year, the informant is recorded asking Weaver whether “C.K.” gave him anything.

Weaver responds: “$300” and complains that the figure is too low.

The subpoenas released Monday identify one of the business people federal prosecutors were interested in as Midwestern Construction & Development, led by Charles Kirkwood. It received a $15,000 grant from the county program, according to county records.

Reached Monday night, Kirkwood said there was “nothing illegal at all.”

He said Weaver was trying to get some of the federal relief money out into the community, and he said FBI agents interviewed him about the relief grant. Asked about the $300 payment Weaver mentioned, Kirkwood said “that is nowhere near true.”

“If I got the money already ... why the hell would I take $300 and give it to somebody?” Kirkwood said before ending the call.

A third subpoena to the county Jan. 5 sought records on nine other businesses, four of which were successful in winning a grant. The other five businesses were not successful.

None of the businesses appeared to be the subject of the indictment against Weaver.

Of the 14 businesses, five were successful in winning a grant, according to a Post-Dispatch review of records.

The county, in a news release, had said four businesses won grants.

The small business grant program, which was funded using part of $173.5 million in federal COVID-19 emergency aid, offered $17.5 million worth in one-time grants of up to $15,000 to hundreds of qualifying small businesses in the county, including $2.5 million to each of the council’s seven districts. Each business could only receive one grant. The program ultimately dispersed a total of $19.2 million in grants to 1,663 St. Louis County businesses.

County Executive Sam Page’s administration publicly released the subpoenas Monday evening after previously declaring the records confidential, declining a Sunshine Law request by the Post-Dispatch for the documents as well as a push by some County Council members for access to the information.

The council was scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a resolution sponsored by Councilman Tim Fitch, a longtime Page critic, to try to compel release of the records.

County Counselor Beth Orwick, in a news release, said the decision to release the subpoenas came after her office weighed “the legal and policy considerations.”

“I indicated at last week’s council meeting that I would continue to evaluate the information known and update my response as necessary,” Orwick said. “After weighing the legal and policy considerations, and following additional correspondence with the federal government, it is my opinion that closure of these records is no longer warranted.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith, who is leading the prosecution of Weaver as well as three former members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in a separate bribery case, had told Orwick’s office last week that it “St. Louis County’s decision whether or not those grand jury subpoenas are disclosable” under the Sunshine Law.

The county’s decision not to release the records had run counter to the legal interpretation by attorneys for the city of St. Louis, which released federal subpoenas to a Post-Dispatch request three weeks ago.

And it reversed Page’s 2019 position when he voted to release subpoenas related to an investigation of then-County Executive Steve Stenger.

At a council meeting last week, Orwick had cited Goldsmith’s response to decline to release the records, but told Fitch at a council meeting last week that “the records are closed for now ... and I believe it will stay — it is closed.”

Orwick, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, said Monday that “there are situations where the correct legal and policy decision is to close records because disclosure could have adverse effects, including where disclosures would interfere with federal grand jury investigations.”

“It is necessary to be thoughtful and deliberate about balancing the various legal and policy considerations in these situations because once a subpoena is disclosed, we cannot undo the decision,” she said in a statement.

Fitch argued the county’s reversal was a result of his council resolution.

“I think that it’s clear that he (Page) knew that that vote was not going to go in his favor,” he said. “So he released them in advance of the vote.”

Fitch said he had “talked to a majority of the council members and feel like I had support to pass it.”

Fitch also accused Page of hiding the receipt of the subpoenas from the county’s legislative body.

“Certainly, I’m glad the subpoenas are have been released,” he said. “But it still doesn’t answer questions of what did Sam Page know? And when did he know it?”

Updated at 8 p.m. Monday, June 20. 

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Reporter covering St. Louis County politics. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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