ST. LOUIS, Mo. – St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, as well as current and former aldermen Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins-Muhammad, have been indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges linked to pay-to-play schemes.
The 66-page indictment was filed on May 25 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri. It was unsealed Thursday.
A federal grand jury charged Reed with two counts of bribery and Collins-Muhammad with two counts of bribery and one count of honest services bribery/wire fraud. Boyd was charged with two counts of bribery as well. He also faces a separate indictment for two counts of wire fraud, alleging he sought $22,000 from his insurance company for damages to vehicles he falsely claimed to own.
“Both play-to-pay schemes set forth in the indictment relate to the defendants’ accepting cash payments and other items of value in exchange for their official acts in providing commercial property tax abatements and other incentives to a small business owner in the city,“ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith.
Collins-Muhammad is accused of accepting bribes and a free car to help a small business owner get approval to build a gas station/convenience store in his ward and receive tax breaks worth several hundred thousand dollars, in direct violation of city and state ordinances. The small business owner, unidentified in the indictment, also sought Boyd’s assistance to buy and redevelop a parcel of land in Boyd’s ward.
The indictment is the culmination of a two-year investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis and included undercover recordings of meetings and telephone calls, as well as text messages and emails.
A spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said she’s “deeply troubled” after hearing of the indictment.
Mayor Jones is deeply troubled by the allegations outlined by the U.S. Attorney against Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, and President Lewis Reed. Our office will monitor this case as it progresses through the legal system.Nick Dunne, spokesman Mayor Jones
Reed, Collins-Muhammad, and Boyd all pleaded not guilty and were released without bond. No future hearing dates were set.
On Jan. 18, 2020, the small business owner (referred to as “John Doe” in the indictment) contacted Collins-Muhammad asking for help in obtaining a property tax abatement. Collins-Muhammad said he could provide John Doe with a 10-year abatement. On January 24, Collins-Muhammad met at John Doe’s business for a discussion on the abatement and the subject of money came up.
“What I owe you for this?” Joe Doe asked.
“25,” Collins-Muhammad replied.
The alderman returned to the business later that day and allegedly received $2,500 in cash. Collins-Muhammad later told John Doe he’d soon receive approval for the tax abatement, worth an estimated $300,000 over the 10-year period.
According to the indictment, John Doe paid Muhammad additional cash for his continued support.
On June 17, Collins-Muhammad and John Doe discussed a public official (called “Public Official One” in the indictment) who could help with government contracts for John Doe’s trucking and hauling company. Prosecutors say the two men agreed to split any profits from government contracts. They arranged to meet with Public Official One the next day, and John Doe asked Collins-Muhammad if he should give the other man any money.
“Should I throw him something”
“F— yeah, you should throw him something,” Collins-Muhammad is quoted as saying. “Yeah, you should throw him something.”
“If you don’t throw him something, he’ll never come back.”
“No, I’ll throw him something,” John Doe said.
The two men agree that John Doe will pay Public Official One $10,000 in cash and also pay Collins-Muhammad “whatever you give me; me and you have a relationship.”
The three men met on June 18 at John Doe’s business and discussed government contracts for his trucking and hauling company. John Doe gave Public Official One $10,000 in cash and Collins-Muhammad an additional $3,000 after the meeting was over. John Doe was directed to write two checks for $5,000, which would be given to Public Official One’s political action committee (PAC).
At the end of June, Collins-Muhammad again reached out to John Doe and said Public Official One needed $2,500 in cash. John Doe acquiesced to the request. Collins-Muhammad promised the government contract would be sorted out “in the next couple of months.”
Federal prosecutors said John Doe never received the government contracts for his trucking and hauling company, and the two $5,000 checks were never cashed or deposited.
On July 3, 2020, Collins-Muhammad used the $2,500 he received from John Doe to buy a 2008 Chevy Trailblazer. That same month, the alderman contacted John Doe, who also bought and sold used vehicles, and requested a car. John Doe gave Collins-Muhammad a 2016 Volkswagen CC sedan at no charge, as long as the alderman continued to support and provide his tax abatement for the gas station in Ward 21.
On September 18, Collins-Muhammad presented a bill (BB 108) to the board of aldermen providing approval for the redevelopment plan and tax abatement for John Doe’s gas station. On November 2, Collins-Muhammad asked another alderman, who was serving as chairperson of the Neighborhood Development Committee, to hold a hearing in order to get the bill passed. On November 24, the committee opened a hearing on BB 108. Collins-Muhammad spoke in favor of the bill and it passed out of committee without objection.
In December, there were additional readings and revisions of the bill. On Dec. 27, 2020, John Doe met with Collins-Muhammad and provided the alderman with a free Apple iPhone 11. A building permit was issued to John Doe on Jan. 8, 2021.
However, residents in Ward 21 were not happy about the gas station project and tax abatement. They complained and voiced their opposition to the project to Alderman Collins-Muhammad. On Jan. 14, 2021, Collins-Muhammad told residents he would pull the tax abatement bill (BB 108), but he did not inform John Doe. Collins-Muhammad ultimately pulled BB 108 from consideration.
Between December 2020 and February 2021, John Doe gave Collins-Muhammad $3,000 in campaign donations in exchange for his continued support in obtaining the tax abatement. Over the next several months, Collins-Muhammad lied to John Doe and said BB 108 was still moving through the board of aldermen.
In May 2021, John Doe was notified that the board of aldermen did not pass BB 108. John Doe and Collins-Muhammad exchanged text messages about the matter. Collins-Muhammad said he would have to reintroduce the bill and it would have to go through committee again. He advised John Doe not to break ground until the bill passed, otherwise he would be paying a lot in property taxes. The day after that exchange, Collins-Muhammad went to John Doe’s business and promised the tax abatement would be passed by June 11. John Doe gave Collins-Muhammad $1,000 in cash.
Federal prosecutors allege Collins-Muhammad attempted to conceal the project from concerned residents in his ward by renaming the proposal Board Bill 42 (BB 42). The language in the bill said it was aimed at “scattered areas” in Ward 21 but the only property identified in the bill was John Doe’s project for the gas station.
However, when he appeared at a committee hearing to discuss BB 42, Collins-Muhammad asked the proposal be tabled and he instead introduced Board Bill 63, which he said contained the same gas station project in BB 42, along with a larger portion of his ward.
Collins-Muhammad did not inform John Doe he’d had the bill tabled and told him to start construction by the beginning of July. However, the St. Louis City Counselor’s Office informed Collins-Muhammad on June 30 that BB 63 did not meet mandatory public notice requirements and the bill could not move through the board until then.
On Aug. 4, 2021, a public official (“Public Official Two”) informed John Doe that she did not support the development, and residents in Ward 21 were against it as well. On August 9, John Doe spoke with an associate of Lewis Reed and requested a meeting with both Collins-Muhammad and the board of aldermen president.
The indictment claims Reed took $2,000 cash from John Doe while he was running for mayor in 2021. John Doe allegedly gave Reed campaign contributions of $3,500 and four other cash payments totaling $4,000 in exchange for Reed’s help in getting city contracts for his trucking company. By August 2021, John Doe began to ask Reed for help in getting the gas station development taken care of in light of Collins-Muhammad’s past failures.
On August 26, Reed, his associate, Collins-Muhammad, and John Doe met at Reed’s campaign headquarters in south St. Louis. During that meeting, Collins-Muhammad claimed Mayor Jones had vetoed his last board bill, which would have taken care of the tax abatement. He said his new proposal (BB 63) would be more difficult for her to veto. Reed is quoted as saying if Mayor Jones did veto it, he’d have enough support to override her.
Collins-Muhammad and Reed asked John Doe to slow down his project for the gas station until they could get the tax abatement squared away, saying it would be completed by October 2021. At the end of the meeting, John Doe allegedly gave Reed $1,000 in cash for his continued support.
In September 2021, Collins-Muhammad submitted Board Bill 99 to redevelop the area in question; BB 99 was approved in November. One month earlier, on October 21, the indictment alleges John Doe gave Collins-Muhammad $500 in cash.
John Doe met with Lewis Reed a month later in November and gave the board president another $1,000. Collins-Muhammad’s redevelopment plan—with the tax breaks for John Doe’s business—went before aldermen on Dec. 14, 2021. The plan passed. As a result, Reed told John Doe that residents in Ward 21 were attempting to have Collins-Muhammad recalled.
During a one-on-one meeting at his campaign headquarters, Reed addressed the consolidation of the city’s wards from 28 to 14, telling John Doe he planned to run a “unified campaign” in March 2023 to get a veto-proof supermajority in the smaller board of aldermen.
“So, of the 14 seats that are up, we need to control 10. We’d like to control 10 of them … If we do that, we control the city at that point,” Reed said.
Reed then solicited a $20,000 campaign contribution from John Doe. Reed said he could accept $5,000 at the moment. John Doe gave him $4,000 in cash, according to prosecutors.
John Doe remained in communication with Reed and Collins-Muhammad until the bill (BB 152) was passed on March 11, 2022, and took effect on April 30. He allegedly provided Collins-Muhammad with $2,000 cash on March 15 and Reed with $3,000 in cash on March 17.
Meanwhile, John Doe was in contact with Alderman Jeffrey Boyd to see a tax abatement for a property on Von Phul Street in the College Hill neighborhood. Between July 2020 and February 2022, John Doe provided Boyd with more than $10,000 in cash or free car repairs for his help on the matter.
The Von Phul property was part of Board Bill 152, which was ultimately passed. However, Boyd is accused of guiding the bill through the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee (HUDZ). Prior to the committee hearing, Boyd was recorded promising John Doe he’d make sure BB 152 went through but cautioned some aldermen may try and fight him on it.
“Yeah, I don’t see that being a big problem. Unless people sign up and b—- about it, but it’s gonna pass. I mean, hell, I’ll make the motion to pass, I think [John] might be on HUDZ though,” Boyd said. “It’ll get out of HUDZ, then it’ll get to the floor, and only if some of these f—— little young white progressives act a f—— fool, you know. They can shut s— down… So, we just have to make sure that we hold our s— together. For the most part, I don’t anticipate a problem.”
Read the entire 66-page indictment.
Reed, 59, has been in local politics for more than two decades. He was elected 6th Ward alderman in 1999. He became president of the board in 2007, a job he’s held ever since. He also serves on the three-person Board of Estimate and Apportionment alongside Mayor Jones and Comptroller Darlene Green. Reed has unsuccessfully run for mayor on three occasions (2013, 2017, and 2021).
“If you read the indictment, at the end, it says that doesn’t mean that the person is guilty,” Reed said outside the courthouse. “That just means the collection of evidence that’s been taken to the grand jury without a judge seated or anything, with just one side of the evidence, the grand jury agreed with it. There’s a lot of other information that has to be factored in.”
Boyd was elected 22nd Ward alderman in 2003. He’s the current chair of the board’s HUDZ Committee.
Neither Boyd nor Collins-Muhammad offered comment after leaving the courthouse Thursday.
Collins-Muhammad, the former 21st Ward alderman, resigned on May 11 after admitting to “many mistakes” but did not indicate at the time why he was leaving the post. For his part, Collins-Muhammad had warned that the next few weeks would be rough in his resignation letter.
The 31-year-old was elected five years ago and had been a prominent voice on the board. In 2017, he proposed a major redevelopment plan on Natural Bridge Avenue, then sponsored legislation to sell crumbling St. Louis City-owned properties for $1. He believed the sales would spur development and revitalize neighborhoods.
The former alderman is notable for something else. He’s been arrested several times for outstanding warrants for traffic violations.
Collins-Muhammad was cited for driving with a revoked license, hitting another car, speeding, and unpaid parking tickets. He was supposed to appear in court to take care of the legal issues but never did.
FOX 2’s Elliott Davis interviewed Collins-Muhammad in 2018 after one of those arrests and asked him why he didn’t just pay the fines. The former alderman said that he just did not have the money.
Davis asked him why he did not take advantage of the city’s amnesty program for people with tickets. He said it was something he should have considered. An activist group put up the $5,000 bail to get him out of jail at that time.