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Northwest Plaza owners ask court to quash subpoenas in St. Louis County Council inquiry

Northwest Plaza owners ask court to quash subpoenas in St. Louis County Council inquiry

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Glarners a no-show at St. Louis County Council hearing on Northwest Plaza

The owners of Northwest Plaza did not attend a St. Louis County Council ethics committee on June 25, 2019. Photo by Jeremy Kohler,

CLAYTON — The owners of the former Northwest Plaza shopping center filed a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court on Wednesday seeking to block subpoenas issued to them in an inquiry into the county’s lease for office space at their complex.

Robert and P. David Glarner, who own the St. Ann complex now known as the Crossings at Northwest, claimed they should not be forced to defend themselves to the County Council at a time when federal prosecutors are investigating whether crimes were committed in their dealings with former County Executive Steve Stenger that resulted in a 20-year lease.

While they dispute any criminal conduct, “zealous defense of the County investigation could result in waiver of their Fifth Amendment rights or provide information that might be used against them if criminal proceedings are commenced,” the suit said. “They should not be put in that position.”

If the court does not quash the county subpoena outright, the Glarners claimed, it should wait until the conclusion of the federal investigation.

Ernie Trakas, the council’s presiding officer and chairman of the ethics committee, said the Glarners’ suit was “exactly what I expected — that they were going to file some action in court to quash the subpoena to keep them from testifying.” Trakas said the Glarners could assert their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination at the council hearing, “but they can’t do it preemptively.”

The Glarners’ lawsuit also claims the council’s ethics committee lacked authority to compel their cooperation, and that council members were misusing quasi-judicial powers “to strong-arm private citizens” into a better deal. The new administration of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is attempting to renegotiate a lease with the Glarners, but the two sides have not reached an agreement after two meetings.

The Glarners pointed to Trakas’ comments in a Post-Dispatch story indicating that he was “not sure there is much point to pursuing the council’s investigation” if the Glarners were to agree to a more favorable lease for the county.

Rich Chrismer, a spokesman for the Glarners, said in an email that “the leases were the work of hard fought, arms-length negotiations that resulted in a fair and transparent deal for the County.” And he said Trakas “has made clear by his actions and statements that he isn’t really seeking information about the leases, he wants to change the terms of leases the County Council approved … and is using the threat of arrest as leverage to compel a renegotiation of the leases.”

He said every St. Louis County resident “should be concerned about a government that threatens to arrest private citizens because it doesn’t like the bargain it struck.”

Trakas said the argument that the council was misusing its subpoena power had “clearly no substance.”

Trakas has previously said that if the Glarners failed to appear, they would be found in contempt of the council and would be arrested and brought before the committee. The subpoenas also seek to compel a wide range of documents, including communications between the Glarners and several advisers both in Stenger’s administration and his political campaign.

The Glarners’ suit also claims the document request was “so broad and indefinite” that it violated the Glarners’ rights to due process and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

The Glarners were among the largest contributors to Stenger’s campaigns, donating $365,000 to his 2014 and 2018 races. The Northwest Plaza lease did not factor into a federal grand jury indictment of Stenger, which led to his resignation and guilty plea this spring. Investigators did, however, subpoena documents from the county related to the deal and several other contracts and leases from Stenger’s tenure. Prosecutors have described their investigation as “ongoing.”

The Glarners and Stenger have denied any quid pro quo in the decision to move county offices to the St. Ann development. And each claimed that negotiations with the county began with Stenger’s predecessor, Charlie Dooley.

But public records show the Glarners’ campaign donations to Stenger began in the summer of 2015, several months into Stenger’s first term, as county officials were reviewing several options to relocate some county offices to leased or purchased space.

And in a 2018 interview, Dooley told the Post-Dispatch that he never made commitments to move county offices to the Glarners’ site. “Talk – that’s all it was,” he said. Moving whole departments such as Workforce Development and the Board of Elections was “never in the conversation.”

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