ST. LOUIS – John Collins-Muhammad, one of three former St. Louis City Board of Aldermen members indicted in a bribery scheme, pleaded guilty Tuesday to all federal charges.
Collins, along with former Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and former Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, was indicted in June in a federal pay-to-play scandal. More pleas are expected soon from Reed and Boyd.
Federal investigators say the former aldermen took cash to help secure tax abatements for a business developer. The feds say they have hundreds of recorded phone calls and thousands of text messages.
Prosecutors initially charged Collins-Muhammad with two counts of bribery and one count of honest services bribery/wire fraud.
“When politicians break the law to serve themselves instead of the people they were elected to serve, everyone loses,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones. “The former alderman’s actions outlined in his federal indictment have embarrassed St. Louis and our city government. The federal corruption charges against Lewis Reed, John Collins-Muhammad, and Jeffrey Boyd have further shaken the faith St. Louisans have in their government.”
Collins-Muhammad, the former 21st Ward alderman, 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.
Beginning in January 2020, Collins-Muhammad accepted $13,500 in cash, $3,000 in campaign contributions, a Volkswagen CC sedan, and an Apple iPhone 11 from John Doe.
The proposed construction drew criticism from Collins-Muhammad’s constituents. He lied to them by saying he would not push legislation forward for the development to receive tax incentives. Meanwhile, Collins-Muhammad told John Doe not to start construction until the tax breaks could be secured.
The board of aldermen approved the legislation containing the tax abatement for John Doe’s development in March 2022.
Reed, Boyd, and Collins-Muhammad originally pleaded not guilty, but that changed on Tuesday. Joe Flees, Collins-Muhammad’s attorney, said he will ask the court for probation but he expects the government to want jail time.
The honest services bribery/wire fraud charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. One of the bribery charges carries a 10-year maximum sentence while the other has a five-year maximum.
Collins-Muhammad will be sentenced on Dec. 6.
“It’s time to turn the page on the past and move on from the failed status quo,” said Jones. “I am ready to work with the Board of Aldermen in the coming legislative session to help rebuild trust by enacting development incentive reform that improves transparency, promotes community involvement, and eliminates conflicts of interest.”
In the meantime, a special election is also happening on Tuesday to fill the aldermanic seat vacated by Boyd when he resigned after the federal case broke. The two candidates vying for Boyd’s seat are Norma Walker and Tonya Finley-McCaw. The winner will serve Boyd’s term, which is up next April.