Saturday, April 10, 2004

They've Been Turning Downtown Into a Parking Lot for a Long Time 


On the Sunday morning streets of downtown St. Louis, the dispossessed huddle in small knots or walk alone in the shadows of tall buildings. Soon the summer heat will press down. There will be little relief before evening. In these hours before the sun has yet to rise high over the river, the men roust themselves from pallets they have made in hidden places. From all quarters of the business district, the castouts carry their bindles through brick and stone canyons.

In front of the shuttered Ambassador Theater, an old man leans on his shopping cart and stubs out a cigarette butt on a trash receptacle. On Olive Street, A young man walks by the deserted Arcade Building, with a defiant-but-contrived swagger, his shirtless torso displaying a b lur of tattoos.

Like these men the buildings themselves appear disheveled and forsaken. Their weathered facades indicate something more deeply wrong with the structure of society.

People of wealth and class, who claim deed to these deteriorating downtown properties, have, of course, the legitimate right to protect their financial interests. Their motivations are no doubts shaped by an unflagging belief in the market forces of supply and demand. So the buildings are left to decay along with what physically remains of the city’s history. The intentional neglect is part of a self-fulfilling prophecy that has deemed much of downtown to be beyond salvaging. Instead, The newest roadside attractions to move into town will need convenient parking for t heir customers. Whereas, a glut of office space has been created in the past decade by the construction of sterile glass towers. The idea of converting downtown into a mixture of commercial and residential purposes is dismissed without serious considerati on.

Instead, hope for the future is predicated on faith in men with deep pockets and myopic vision. Gambling and professional sports interests have come to dictate public policy. Much of this tawdry business is conducted long distance over fiber-opti c cables and computer networks. Personal meetings are conducted in private, with attorneys acting as conduits for the transactions. Those involved in this protracted speculation are divorced from their surroundings. Having long lost touch with any sense o f place, their attention is fixed on the bottom line.

Unfortunately, there are city officials who agree with these speculators’ contentions that the public would best be served by leveling a considerable portion of downtown for parking lots. Ironical ly, Kathleen Shea, the head of the Heritage and Urban Design Commission (HUDC) is one of them. So is Larry Bushong, the city’s chief economic advisor and the director of the St. Louis Development Corp. These bureaucrats and other appointed minion are acti ng on behalf of Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., and the mayor is bowing to powerful banking and real estate interests.

The argument for preservation of the city’s architectural heritage is muted by the language of development, a mixture of bureaucratic mum bo jumbo and real estate jargon. A confusing array of government guidelines at the local, state and federal level must constantly be hurdled to protect historic buildings. Those obstacles can be imposing. Any structure, for example, regardless of its his torical or architectural significance, may only be added to the National Register of Historic Buildings, if the owner of the property agrees to the request. For years, this complex system, while giving a passing nod to preservation, has been shifting in favor of new development. Foremost among the preservationists’ problems is the difficulty that rehabbers now have in acquiring federal tax credits, which make restoration projects economically feasible.

Given the financial roadblocks, the city has thus far spurned recent pleas by Jamie Cannon and Jeffrey Blydenburgh, the past and present presidents of the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Both architects have sided with calls by preservationists for a halt to building demo litions downtown until a strategic plan can be enforced.

On the 7th floor of the St. Louis Design center at 917 Locust Street, Carolyn Toft sits in what might be called the war room of the preservationists’ forces. The longtime head of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis would likely not be comfortable with that description.

At a recent HUDC hearing, she publicly stated that she would prefer not to debate the issue of architectural preservation in the newspapers. There is no debate, however, that Toft possesses the qualifications to argue the point. Without speaking a word, the room provides evidence of her expertise.

Rolls of blueprints are stacked in one corner, behind a long shelf filled with old oversized plat books of St. Louis streets. On the opposite wall, there is a bird’s-eye rendering of St. Louis, circa 1875. A cardboard box overflows with news clippings next to stacks of matted architectural photographs. The conference table is covered by maps of downtown and file folders containin g information on historic buildings that are currently threatened by demolition.

Toft and the non-profit Landmarks Association are responsible for preparing all of the city’s nominations for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. In rec ent years, she participated, with more than 125 other private and public planners, in drawing up a strategic plan for downtown. The group was made up of representatives of the City of St. Louis and Downtown St. Louis Inc., the local chamber of commerce. T he Board of Aldermen endorsed the plan on Jan. 15, 1993. In its final report, which went through several drafts, the planners conservatively addressed the needs for both preservation and development, and recommended objectives and goals. Toft has inserte d paperclips on pages of the final report, where the plan’s advice has not been followed. The covers of the paperback bulge from the metal bookmarks. “Pick any paperclip and read what’s there, and tell me if that’s what’s going on,” says Toft.

It’s not.

With regard to parking, the reports states: “Well-landscaped lots are encouraged at the perimeter of downtown, but new surface lots should be discouraged within the core.”

All of these dealings harken back to the turn-of-the-century, when muckraker Lincoln Steffens, wrote his unflattering account of St. Louis politics for McClure’s magazine. “The corruption of St. Louis came from the top. The best citizens -- the merchants and big financiers used to rule the town, and they ruled it well,” wrote Ste ffens in 1902. “But a change occurred. Public spirit became private spirit, public enterprise became private greed.”

Christmas in Washington by Steve Earle 

Christmas in Washington
by Steve Earle

Just picked this one out on the old guitar. It’s a sweetheart of a tune. Three chords in the key of C.

It was Christmastime in Washington,
The Democrats rehersed getting into gear
For four more years of things no t getting worse.

The Republicans drank whiskey neat and
Thanked their lucky stars
They said, “He cannot seek another term,
There’ll be no more FDRs.”

I sat at home in Tennessee starin’ at the screen,
With an uneasy feeling in my chest
and wonderin’ wh at it means.

So come back to us Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now.
Tear your eyes from paradise and Rise again somehow

If you run in Jesus maybe he can help you out.
Come back to us Woody Guthrie now

I followed in your footsteps once
back in my travelin’ days,
Somewhere I failed to find your trail
Now I’m stumbling through the haze.

But there’s killers on the highway now
and a man can’t get around
So I sold my soul for wheels that roll,
Now I’m stuck here in this town.

There’s foxes in the henhouse,
Cows out in the corn,
The unions have been busted,
There proud red banners torn.

To listen to the radio,
You’d think that all was well,
But you and me and Cisco know
It’s going straight to hell.

So come back Emma Goldman,
Rise up old Joe Hill,
The barr icades are goin’ up,
They cannot break our will.

Come back to us Malcom X and Martin Luther King,
We’re marching into Selma,
As the bells of freedom ring.

So come back Woodie Guthrie
Come back to us now.
Tear your eyes from paradise
and rise again some how

If you run into Jesus,
maybe he can help us out.

A Shroud of Mystery 

A botanist presents evidence at the Missouri Botantical Garden for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin

first published by the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), June 11, 1997

Questions regarding the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin date back to 1389 A.D., when a French bishop denounced the relic as a fake. Since then, the controversy has continued as to whether the 14-foot-long fabric -- which bears the faint image of a crucified person -- is actually the funeral cloth of Jesus Christ.

Last Friday evening, an Israeli botanist, presented details of his own research on the shroud to a St. Louis audience. In a lecture at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Avinoam Danin, of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, asserted that the relic is indeed genuine.

“I cannot say that this is Jesus. I cannot. Nobody can,” Danin told The Riverfront Times in an interview preceding his public appearance. “(But) I believe it is authentic. I believe that it came from Jerusalem. I believe that there was some physical-chemical process that made the images of the things on it. ...” The barrel-chested botanist spoke rapidly with flourishing hand gestures, sometimes pausing to translate his thoughts from Hebrew.

Danin’s findings concur with those of Alan and Mary Whanger of Duke University, who have been studying existing photographs of the shroud since 1977. By using a special photographic process, along with negatives and ultraviolet light scanning, they have been able to make visible images on the shroud that have previously been indiscernible to the naked eye.

After consulting the seminal botanical guide to Palestine, the Christian couple determined the images they had found were identical to 28 types of flowering plants native to the Jerusalem area. All but one of those plants bloom in March and April, during the time of Passover when Christ is thought to have been crucified. The North Carolina researchers speculate that the flowers placed around the head of the corpse were part of a funeral ritual.

Ten years after making their discovery, the Whangers asked Danin, who is a renown Israeli plant expert, for assistance in confirming the identity of the flora. After examining the photographic evidence, the botanist says he verified not only the Whanger’s research, but found evidence of other plants native to Jerusalem as well.

The endorsement of the shroud’s authenticity is an unprecedented position for a Jewish scholar to take. But Danin, who wore a pair of New Balance running shoes to the interview, appeared unconcerned about the consequences of his action. He indicated he was encouraged to take his rather radical stand by the demeanor of his American colleagues.

“The Whangers were so honest, dealing with facts and not with beliefs,” says Danin.“I thought that this was an opportunity to promote this project and this is why I’m here.” Danin had landed on a TWA flight only about an hour before the interview commenced, and came prepared with a rucksack filled with scientific literature on the shroud.

The botanist announced his findings to students during a lecture at Hebrew University on April 8. Word of his stance soon leaked to the press, and within a days CBS Evening News aired an interview with him. The morning after the television broadcast, Danin heard a radio report that a major fire had erupted in San Giovanni cathedral in Turin, where the shroud has been held since 1578. Firefighters rescued the linen by smashing through bullet-proof glass and carrying the silver reliquary containing the relic to safety.

This isn’t the first time the shroud has been endangered by fire. After falling into the hands of the royal House of Savoy, the cloth narrowly escaped destruction in 1532, when its repository in Chambery, France burned. The 16th-Century blaze charred the edges of the shroud and left it water stained.

Danin points to the fire damage as a reason to doubt the results of modern radiocarbon dating analysis, which, according to some scientists, proves the shroud a fraud. In the 1988 tests, three international laboratories concluded the shroud was created no earlier than 1260 A.D. Danin, suggests the test sample taken from a corner of the linen may not have been representative of the whole cloth. According to Danin and others, one part of the relic might not be the same age as the main cloth, because repairs were known to have been done to the charred portions of the shroud following the fire in 1532.

The botanical evidence put forth by the Whangers and Danin supports the theory that the shroud originated in the Holy Land rather than medieval Europe, where the relic made its first historic appearance at Lirey, France about 1350. Legend has it that Geoffrey de Charny, a knight, returned to France with the shroud following a Crusade.

In recent times, the shroud has been placed on public display in 1898, 1931 and 1978, when more than 3 million pilgrims visited Turin. After the last exhibition, a group of international scientists ran a series of exhaustive tests. Most of those participating in the Shroud of Turin Research Project agreed that the relic was not a painting. Evidence gathered at that time also supported the idea that the dark stains on the shroud may be blood. Other images that have been discerned on the shroud include: a Roman spear, a crown of thorns, and a sponge on reed.

In 1973, another group of experts were allowed to examine the shroud. At that time, Swiss criminologist Max Frei detected dozens of different pollens on the surface of the cloth. Twenty-five of those of pollens are produced by plants native to Jerusalem, which the Whangers claim to have discovered on the shroud.

Danin cited other reputed evidence of the shroud’s ancient origins. These include the similarities of the blood stains on the shroud to those found on another funeral cloth -- the Sudarium of Oviedo -- which surfaced in Spain in the 7th Century. In addition, the facial images of many Third to 10th Century icons resemble the gaunt, bearded visage on the shroud. Of particular significance, says Danin, is the likeness of Christ that appears on a Byzantine coin from the reign of Justinian II, circa 695 A.D., which is nearly identical to the image on the shroud. The Whangers, using a series of polarized filters, have superimposed these images on top of each other, and found multiple points of congruence, says Danin.

Confirming articles of religious faith through scientific method seems to be an oxymoron, but it hasn’t stopped a cavalcade of inquiring minds from investigating this age old enigma. As for Danin, he hopes to see the shroud itself next year, if he is accepted as a participate in the third international conference dedicated to the mystery.


Some Like It Hot: Government Shares Secrets of Atom with Citizens 



The image cast by the overhead projector showed a grainy snapshot of a boy with a crew cut crouched next to a tail-wagging dog. In the faded background, a pick-up truck could be seen parked next to a modest frame house. The time was 1955; the place Paris, Mo.

The bucolic setting could not have been more deceptive. When the spring rains fell that year, they permanently changed the lives of many residents of the small town in the northeast corner of the state, as they did countless other lives across the continent. But unlike the havoc reeked by floods or other natural disasters, the damage to humanity could not be immediately measured. At the time, few people knew anything about the effects of exposure to radioactive fallout. Nuclear weapons research, propelled by the arms race and the ensuing hysteria over national security, proceeded unimpeded. Between 1951 and 1963 more than one hundred above-ground atomic bombs blasts were detonated by the federal government at its Nev ada Test Site.

Richard L. Miller -- the youngster in the photograph -- has spent much of his adult life learning of the consequences of that nuclear atmospheric testing during the Cold War.

Last Saturday, the 50-year-old author displayed the black-and-white image from his childhood along with photographs of nuclear explosions at a conference of the National Association of Radiation Survivors, which convened at the Henry VIII Hotel on North Lindbergh Boulevard. Miller, who wrote Under the Cloud: Th e Decades of Nuclear Testing, feels both vindicated and disturbed by the findings of a recently released National Cancer Institute (NCI) study on the dangers of nuclear fallout.

“First and foremost, ... it’s an admission by the government that they dose d the entire United States with fallout,” Miller told the audience. The NCI study made public in August took almost a decade-and-a-half to complete. It concludes that 10,000 to 75,000 people, who were exposed to high levels of fallout of as children, may contract thyroid cancer as a result.

The wind, rain and weather dispersed the isotope randomly across large sections of the U.S. and Canada, after the detonation of experimental atomic bombs blasts. Most of the children were exposed to the fallout, Iodine-131, by drinking contaminated milk.

Despite the belated confession by the federal government, Miller criticized the NCI report for excluding relevant data, which if taken into account would increase the potential health problems caused by the fallout. “There are two hundred other isotopes,” he says, “isotopes that can cause cancer in other parts of the body, including bone cancer and leukemia.” None of the those elements were factored into the study, however.

Miller found another oversight. “They did not include all the maps.” Miller caught the omission by comparing NCI data available on Internet with copies of 1959 Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and National Weather Service documents he had tucked away in his closet. Interestingly, the fal lout from the14 nuclear blasts excluded from the NCI study, all show fallout crossing into Canada, according to Miller.

“The NCI’s maps, to be charitable, are not very good. They don’t give the same amount of information that the originals do,” says Mi ller. “They spent 15 years working on this thing. ... You would think that they would have the very best computer technology available to enhance the quality of the images.”

When Miller recently asked the Missouri Department of Health whether it had correlated data on fallout with any other forms of cancer other than the type that attack the thyroid gland, the agency said it had not.  Regarding thyroid cancer, the health department claimed that based on available data there appeared to be no increase in the Missouri counties, Miller says.

Miller doesn’t agree with either finding. In his opinion, the state like its federal counterpart is continuing to exclude data that indicates cancer rates are tied to fallout exposure. In this case, the state faile d to even consider scientific findings that have been on the books for more than a decade. “The third national cancer survey published in 1983 shows spikes of thyroid cancer in a number of hot counties (in Missouri),” says Miller. “It also shows spikes o f leukemia in a number of the hot counties, as well as, bone cancer.”

Missouri has the dubious distinction of having more than two dozen counties among the 200 nationwide that were the most heavily contaminated by nuclear fallout, according to the NCI s tudy. The majority of the effected counties are in the northeast quadrant of the state, where Miller was born and raised.

“In 1968, my father, who was a tax collector for Monroe Co. (Mo.), which is one of the hot zones, noticed there was a high level of cancer in one particular part of the county,” says Miller. After joining the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the early 1970s, Miller himself had an opportunity to further investigate his father’s observations. He too foun d what appeared to be extraordinary numbers of cancer cases in Monroe County, and he subsequently informed epidemiologists at the University of Missouri. “This was 1975 and I haven’t heard from them since,” says Miller. A year later Miller’s father died of lung cancer.

Miller’s OSHA career next took him to Texas, where he began investigating a cluster of rare brain cancers at a Union Carbide chemical plant in Houston. When he attempted expand his investigation to a nearby Dow chemical facility, the Reagan administration called a halt to it and began shredding documents. The OSHA office where he worked was ultimately closed. It was during this period that a public health official suggested to him that the pocket of brain cancer cases in Houston may h ave been the result of nuclear fallout. When he looked into it, Miller did indeed discover a correlation between fallout patterns and brain cancer clusters in both Texas and Kentucky. His extensive research finally led him to write the book on the subje ct.

Currently, Miller operates a private environmental consulting firm in Houston that investigates toxic chemical contamination. He is also the author of a novel that is set in the nuclear fallout era.

The reasoning that led to mass radiation exposure is stranger than fiction, however. “They did it because they could,” says Miller of the government’s nuclear testing program. “I think they’re mistaken impression was that it was for the greater good. At the time, they thought that if we set off these bombs, if we caused hazards across the country, we may in some way be protecting the U.S. from possible attack by the Soviets. ... (But) The Soviets didn’t even have an aircraft that could make it to the U.S. and back at that time,” says Miller.

“I be lieve the feds originally caused this problem, the AEC, specifically,” he adds. “It dosed Missouri with radioactive fallout. Now it’s up to the federal government to help Missouri out in terms of education programs and possibly compensation for medical c are for particular types of illnesses that are known to be associated with fallout. I believe the first order of business is to introduce a resolution that would ask for this additional funding. I would think that the representatives from the good state of Missouri would be the ones to do that.”

Novelists and Gun DealerJohn Ross: Gunning for Congress 

I wrote this story on congressional candidate John Ross in the fall of 1998. Ross, a maverick Democrat with a love for guns, also wrote a novel in which jackbooted ATF agents were the antagonists. Ross used Clayton business address, 7912 Forsyth, of his friend T.J. Mullen, the prominent divorce attorney, on his federal gun license. Ross claimed that his customers included the Springfield, Mo. police department.

Gun dealer and novelist John Ross sets his sights on Republican Jim Talent’s congressional seat, while the Democratic Party runs for cover


It is a commerce often associated with tawdry pawn shops or furtive exchanges conducted out of the trunks of large sedans late at night on side streets or dimly lit back alleys. But that’s not how it really goes down. Gun dealing is a business. In most cases, a legitimate business. A business that fits seamlessly into the pattern of everyday life in America, supported by the society’s economic, legal and philosophical underpinnings. Within this milieu, firearms proliferate. They are distributed not so much by gang members, as entrepreneurs who pursue their lucrative agendas in a reasonable and orderly fashion, under the full protection of federal law.

John Ross, a Clayton-based stock broker, is one of those private citizens who trades in lethal commodities. He buys high-powered weaponry and ammunition directly from manufacturers or importers and sells it to other dealers.

Ross runs his profitable weapons sideline from a room in the Guild Building at 7912 Bonhomme Ave. in Clayton, on the same floor as the office of his friend and associate T. J. Mullin, the prominent St. Louis bankruptcy attorney. Unlike Mullin, however, Ross shuns publicity for his moonlighting enterprise. He doesn’t advertise his munitions sales in the Yellow Pages and he doesn’t solicit business via television commercials. Instead, he says, those who are in need of his services know how and where to find him.

Ross is one of approximately 93,000 Americans who hold federal firearms licenses issued by the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). The licensees range from mom and pop collectors to giant arms merchants. But within the gun culture, Ross stands in a class of his own: He is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Missouri’s 2nd District.

This is Ross’ second attempt to gain the House seat currently held by conservative Republican Jim Talent of Chesterfield. In 1996, Ross spent more than $85,000 of his own money in his primary loss to liberal Democrat Joan Kelly Horn, the one-term congresswoman who Talent defeated in 199_ to gain federal office.

By coincidence, Ross also made his literary debut in 1996. Since then, his novel Unintended Consequences has become an underground favorite among opponents of gun control. The plot involves the illegal seizure of property and violent abuse of law-abiding citizens by ATF agents who have run amok. In the wake of Waco and Ruby Ridge, National Rifle Association (NRA) members and other gun enthusiasts have been attracted to Ross’ theme. The book is now in its third printing, and, according to Ross, a film adaptation of the novel is under consideration by a bevy of Hollywood producers.

In the real world, the essence of the novel mirrors Ross’ own opinions relating to gun issues. He is, for instance, a strong proponent of the right of citizens to carry concealed weapons. A state referendum on that issue is scheduled for next April. He says

Last week, a spokeswoman in Jefferson City said Ross had not yet contacted the state party.

As would be expected, Democrats aren’t going out of the way to talk about the situation with the media either. On Monday, a spokesman for St. Louis County Executive failed to return call at the manner. Ross, on the other hand, says he is scheduling meetings almost everyday to build a coalition, but it’s unclear with whom he is meeting.

At this point, there has been little communications between Ross and the Democratic leaders in the state. He admits that he hasn’t spoken to U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt, the influential House minority leader and longstanding St. Louis-area 3rd District congressman. “He’s pretty busy right now,” says Ross of Gephardt. “I haven’t talked to him yet, but that’s about to change.”

Kathleen Burkett, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in St. Louis County says she has little familiarity with Ross or his candidacy. Ross has not contacted her for any support, she says. Burkett declined to comment further on Ross other than to say, “Just because you file as a Democrat doesn’t mean you are a Democrat.”

By any stretch, Ross’ congressional candidacy represents a radical departure from regular Democratic Party politics in St. Louis County.Ross’ positions on many issues are more closely aligned to those of the Libertarian Party and its emphasis on personal freedoms. He advocates freedom of choice on the abortion issue, but on other matters, his viewpoint seems almost diametrically opposed to conventional Democratic Party standards.The defense of freedom is above all else dependent on the constitutional right to bear arms, according to Ross. The candidate’s allegiance to the Second Amendment is shared not only with ordinary Americans, but by rightwing fringe groups, including the militia movement. Although Ross claims to be unaffiliated with such extremists, his book is being sold through an Internet web site that also offers machines guns.

“I was an independent when I ran for this seat two years ago, and I voted for the man not the party,” says Ross. “But I feel that if you’re involved in important issues, you pretty much have a duty to run for office when you feel you can make a difference for the better.” Ross asserts that he is a libertarian in the same vein as Thomas Jefferson. As for the modern political party of the same name, he is unconvinced of the third party’s relevancy. “Those are people who have elected to take themselves out of politics and put themselves into a debating society,” says Ross of the Libertarians. To effect any type of meaningful change, Ross thinks political candidates must work from within one of the two major parties. “I believe the Democratic Party is in the middle of fundamental change and I want to be part of that,” says Ross. But it is clear that the Democratic Party isn’t hurrying to be a part of Ross’ campaign.

The office directory in the lobby of the Guild Building at 7912 Bonhomme lists B. I. Manufacturing and John Ross as occupying Room 375. Mullin, Ross’ campaign treasurer in 1996, maintains his law practice in room 303 of the same building. Other tenants include more attorneys, an insurance company and a hotel association. The innocuous edifice in no way resembles an arsenal or shooting range. There isn’t any evidence imported firearms from Belgium are sold on the premises. No point-of-purchase displays for bullets or body armor either. And buyers aren’t roaming the halls firing test rounds from Austrian Glock, or Italian Beretta handguns, but it is obvious from his conversation that Ross is acquainted with all these tools of the trade.

“That’s where I do paperwork,” explains Ross. “I do not sell out of there. I act usually as a broker. In fact, they (the munitions) usually go directly from the initiation point to the end user,” he says. “I, basically, don’t deal with private individuals. I’m not open to the general public.”

Ross says the largest sale he ever made was to the Springfield (Mo.) Police Department. He further claims that some of his best customers are local law enforcement agencies around the country. His other clients are commonly federal firearms licensees from out of state, he says. Ross adds that he likes to keep a low profile for security reasons.

Although his arms business is only a couple of blocks from two local police headquarters, neither the Clayton or St. Louis County police do their shopping at Ross’ gun dealership. Officers from both departments, who were interviewed for this story, said they were unacquainted with Ross’ arms ventures.

The ATF office in St. Louis, however, is aware of Ross’ activities. The agency lists Ross as holding a valid license in St. Louis County.“I have to comply with all applicable laws,” says Ross. “I ... obviously would be a fool not to.”

Ross may be in compliance with the law now, but it appears to have been hastily arranged. On Monday morning, the RFT asked him whether B.I. Manufacturing had a Clayton business license. Ross indicated that his business was legally licensed. When the newspaper called the Clayton license collector on Monday afternoon, however, the clerk said Ross had stopped by only that morning to pay for his business license. For Ross to be in compliance with his federal firearm license, he must also abide by applicable local laws.

Aside from making misleading statements about his business license, Ross remained reticent about other details concerning his gun dealing. He claims that the name of the company -- B.I. Manufacturing -- is now obselete and he no longer manufactures anything. He did not volunteer exactly what his company had once manufactured. He also refused at first,to provide the location of his dealership. He later confirmed the address only after the reporter recited part of his ATF license information back to him over the phone. In addition, Ross declined to directly answer questions regarding the volume or the specific types of weapons that he sells.

“I don’t want to get into the kind of details that anyone picking up your paper could use to then craft some sort of illegal endeavor,” says Ross. “I’m just concerned about security and harassment. The kind of people I deal with, police departments, they don’t need to read The Riverfront Times to see where I am or to reach me.” He complained that delving into his background as a gun dealer was not relevant to his congressional campaign and could possibly endanger his personal safety. He then mentioned the possibility of his office being burglarized even though he subsequently stated that no arms were stored on the premises.

Firearm thefts are a very real problem in the United States. ATF statistics from last year indicate that federal firearms licensees have reported nearly 24,000 lost or stolen guns since 1994. Meanwhile, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predict that deaths from gunfire will surpass auto fatalities by 2001. The CDC estimates that four Americans are killed by gunfire every hour. In 1995, the FBI linked 13,673 murders to firearms. That same year, the Department of Justice calculated the number of firearms in the United States at 223 million. If the statistics are accurate, that total has increased significantly since then. American manufacturers alone produce eight new guns every minute, according to the ATF.

Despite these bloody numbers, gun rights proponents equate firearms ownership with the pursuit of liberty and argue it is an inalienable right protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. They view any encroachment on the right to bear arms as a direct attack on their freedom and the sovereignty of the nation.

In the foreward to Ross’ novel, Mullin, his friend and former campaign treasurer, alleges that there is an ongoing pogrom against members of the American gun culture. “These attacks amount to genocide,” wrote Mullin. “It is my hope that this book will cause those who blindly seek to destroy the gun culture to pause for a moment and recognize that their random actions are in error, and to reconsider their evil ways.”

When asked on Monday, whether he had any current connection to Ross’ campaign, Mullin responded: “I’m not sure to tell you the truth.” He then added that he is not serving in a formal capacity in Ross’ campaign at this time. The attorney also stated that he has nothing to do with Ross’ gun business, which is located on the same floor as his law office. The two men do have at least one interest in common: They both claim to be police weapons instuctors. Mullin identifies himself in the foreward of Ross’ novel as a former captain in the U.S. Army. He is also listed as the author of two books of his own: Training the Gunfighter and The 100 Greatest Combat Pistols.

“I think individual freedom is the most important issue facing us today,” says Ross. “If you’ll look at our history, there has been no time when there wasn’t some attempt by some group to chill the rights of others. The price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance.” For these reasons, Ross strongly endorses the passage of a law permitting citizens to carry concealed firearms. The issue is scheduled to be placed on the statewide ballot next April.

According to Ross, the Missouri law prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons dates back to 1874. “It was passed during Reconstruction because influential people did not want former slaves being able to protect themselves,” he says. “We became really creative in this country when we realized that these former slaves were going to be citizens. That’s how we got poll taxes and literacy tests. If you look at the history of gun control in this country, it didn’t exist until the Emancipation Proclamation,” says Ross. “It’s really the remaining Jim Crow law on the Missouri law books. The lesson, of course, is that whenever anyone’s rights are violated you are at risk of having your rights violated.”

Missouri is among the seven states which still prohibit citizens from carrying concealed weapons. The others that continue the ban include three of Missouri’s neighbors: Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska. Laws against “concealed carry” also remain on the books in Ohio and Wisconsin.

If the concealed weapons proposal becomes state law in Missouri, proponents says it will act to deter crime. But the remaining question is whether a citizenry -- which is armed to the teeth -- will ultimately result in an escalation of violent confrontations. It would seem inevitable that if more guns are carried, more guns will sooner or later be used. Sometimes the additional firepower on the streets might foil a crime. Sometimes they might protect a victim from a heinous crime. But just as often they may accidentally kill an innocent bystander. Just as often they may be used to permanently end a dispute. Just as often the gunman may shoot first and take a body count later.

Under these conditions, ordinary social discourse will be ruled by the gun, inevitably creating a plethora of half-cocked circumstances loaded with deadly potential and ready to explode. The man on the street, the guy in the suit, the one with the thinning hair and middle-aged paunch, he may be packing or he may not. The implicit threat of violence will be ubiquitously codified in law. It will hang in the air, as palpable as the fumes of a Bi-State bus. Retaliation will be only a trigger pull away, assuring that sporadic gunplay becomes the unavoidable toll of freedom. One cross word, one dirty look, one wrong move on the highway and the transgressor may meet his maker.

Ross is currently struggling to get beyond his identity as a one-issue candidate. Moreover, he has little or no Democratic Party support, and faces an uphill battle against the Republican incumbent Talent, whose campaign fund coffers are brimming with money from defense contractors among others.

In an interview with the RFT last week, Ross stated his positions on a range of subjects from Social Security to environmental law enforcement. In both of these cases, his views, while perhaps unorthodox, nevertheless, appear worthy of political debate. Ross would like the Social Security law, for example, to be amended so that individuals could voluntarily remove themselves after 20 years of participation. This option would allow participants to instead invest in their own retirement plan and relieve the projected future strains on the system. In respect to environmental protection, Ross believes that the right to sue polluters for damages is the best means of controlling corporate behavior.

But it is difficult for Ross to put aside his position on firearms or disassociate himself from the pro-gun zealots who view his recent novel as a virtual prophecy. Ross’ message, in all of its fictional glory, is currently being proselytized and marketed on the Internet. Browsers who happen to stop by the Gun Runner’s web site (www.gunrunner.com) can purchase Unintended Consequences, for $28.95 and also order a G.E. Mini Gun for $100,000. That weapon, with slight alterations, is capable of firing 6,000 rounds a minute. Gun Runner, an arms manufacturer and dealer in Moscow, Idaho, boasts on its web site that Ross’ book has been banned in Canada.

The cover of the book is telling in itself. An illustration depicts a helmeted, Gestapo-like officer aiming an assault rifle at the neck of the reclining female image of blind justice, who happens to have a slit in her toga that reveals a shapely leg. Behind the cheesecake, the Declaration of Independence is ablaze.

Another hardbound copy of Unintended Consequences is promoted through the web site of New York specialty bookbinder Richard Minsky (www.minsky.com). The cover of the Minksy edition is made out of blue Nigerian goatskin, with quotes from the book stamped in 23-karat gold. To enhance the book’s appeal to gun enthusiasts, Minsky shot it from 50 yards with a Ruger semi-automatic rifle.

Another web site (www.gunbooks.org/) sells Unintended Consequences and similar books to raise funds for the gun interests who are pushing for passage of the concealed weapons referendum in Missouri next year. The web site was created by a member of the Missouri Sports Shooters Association, the NRA’s affiliate in the state. Amazon.com, the online bookseller, grants the web site owners a commission each time a book is ordered by way of www.gunbooks.org.

The Amazon.com web site includes reviews of Unintended Consequences. One of the blurbs lifted from the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph lauds Ross’ tome as magnificent. “(It) will terrify and appall jackbooted stormtroopers everywhere, and even more so the whimpering media geeks who squat to lick those boots.” In the opinion of Peter Kokalis, editor of Fighting Firearms, Ross’ literary work “is the most disturbing book I have ever read. ... It ranks only below Holy Scripture as required reading.” One review faults the book for being overly laden with details on firearms techniques. Another reader criticizes the novel for its lurid sexual content. 0

Ross compares his novel to writer Tom Clancy’s first work, The Hunt for Red October. In both cases, the novels were put out by small publishing houses that had previously never dealt with fiction. Ross’ book, which was published by Accurate Press, has become the publisher’s best-selling book to date.

Ross describes the novel as a political thriller. Henry Bowman, the main character in the book, is pitted against the evil forces of the federal government, exemplified by terrorist ATF agents. “The protagonist is at a friend’s home late one night and uses his skills and the element of surprise to stop what appears at the time to be an armed robbery,” says Ross. “When he interrogates the survivors, he discovers to his dismay is that what he has stopped is not an armed robbery, but an illegal federal raid, where the perpetrators were there to plant evidence and thereby invoke the seizure laws and take the property. The question in his mind is then, ‘Good Lord, what do I do now?’ That’s the climax of the book. I won’t go any further and give anything away.”

Bowman’s travails are a far cry from Ross’ own life circumstances. In reality, the author and upstart congressional candidate lives comfortably in Richmond Heights with his wife and daughter. He works as a stock broker at the firm of J. Michael-Patrick in Clayton. His office is directly across the street from the St. Louis County Government, a bastion of government bureaucracy. The same building he work in also houses the local offices of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Ross says he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to sell firearms to the DEA, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility. Although Ross says his gun dealing business only represents a small facet of his busy lifestyle, he admits longstanding fascination with firearms. Says Ross,“It’s a hobby I got into as a little boy and I never outgrew it.”

Opus Dei in St. Louis 

Admit it. You've read the DiVinci Code, right? Remember the albino villain who is a member of Opus Dei. Well, Opus Dei operates right here in St. Louis. The order's headquarters are located at Essex and Kirkwood Road in Kirkwood, across the street from the Kirkwood Baptist Church. There aren't any signs on the Opus headquarters. It looks like an ordinary suburban apartment building or condo complex. And in a sense, that's what it is. Unmarried members of Opus Dei, live their austere existences here. If they follow the sect's edicts they're sleeping on boards and whipping themselves, etc., etc. The Opus Dei folks also run summer camps, which are plugged in the zoned editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but don't expect to see the name of the organization listed there, either.

The Kirkwood Opus Dei headquarters is called the Wespine Study Center. Wespine with no T. It used to be located on West Pine Avenue near the St. Louis University campus before it moved to the burbs.

West Pine is part of the Association for Educational Development, which is an Illinois non-profit corporation. Opus Dei's name isn't mentioned in any of the paper work, of course. The registered agent is Frank Pletz. The mailing address for Wespine is 100 East Essex. But there's another entrance to the building on Kirkwood Road. So there could be two mailing addresses.

The officers and directors of the Association for Educational Development's in 1998 included the following good Catholics :

John H. Wildes president
Norbert Carballo secretary
Timothy C. Hogan treasurer
R. Gilbert Kaufman director
Joseph G. Billmier director
John G. LaMieux director

The top three list their address as 5800 N. Keating Ave, Chicago, 60646.

Kaufman's address is 16644 N. Winchester, Chicago, 60622.

LaMieux's is 829 S. Euclid, Oak Park, Ill. 60303

Only Joseph G. Billmeir lists his address as 100 East Essex, Kirkwood, Mo. 63122.

So Billmeir and Frank Pletz are the two names that are directly attached to the address at 100 East Essex.

Happy Easter to you. I sincerely hope you all have a flogging good time.

My Letter to the Editor 

The first thing that Roland Klose did , when he joined the RFT in June 1999, was help get Thomas Crone fired. In retrospect, it was probably a budgetary issue. Klose and the two other top managers at the newspaper, former publisher Ray Hartmann and editor Safir Ahmed, were getting paid approximately half the entire editorial budget. Hartmann had a three-year contract worth $375,000 to write his weekly commentary. It was rumored that Ahmed was making $80,000 a year under Hartmann. So he probably got a raise when New Times bought Hartmann out. Klose the managing editor most likely got paid $50,000 or more because he wouldn't have taken too big a cut to jump over from the Tampa Tribune, where he had been a section editor. So all the reporters and copy editors and support staff combined -- about a dozen people -- were making as much collectively as these three guys. The less work you did the more you got paid. Hartmann got paid for his name, basically and writing a thousand-word editorial once a week. He didn't even come into the office. Most of his time was spent in Miami Beach. Safir didn't show up before 10 or 11 in the morning. Roland came in early, but what did he do? He liked to make stick figures out of paper clips. He was quite skilled at it. I'll tell you one thing he did, at least on one occasion,m -- stick errors into my copy -- more than likely on purpose. Can you get any lower than this?
Note to Safir Ahmed 5-14-00]

A few days before the incident for which I was pulled into your office, I had another disagreement with Roland. This one hinged on the quota and the fact that editors weren't pulling their weight. The argument had actually b een set off by your comment at a recent staff meeting that you were too busy with other obligations to write the story on the Post yourself.

Roland uncharacteristically took your defense in this issue. But the debate wa sn't focused on you, specifically. One of the points that I brought up was that Roland himself had been working on the Overland
gun story for more than nine months.

Often when I've complained about a deadline in the past, Roland has mimicked playing a violin, pulling the bow across an imaginary instrument. So I did the same. The act was done under deadline pressure and there was nothi ng particularly malicious about it. I also commented that if he needed help e di ting I'd be willing to share the load. In other words, the clear implication was I considered editing easier than
writing. He stormed out of my office saying, "I'm going to d o just that." Those are close to his exact words. He said he was going to shar e t he editing responsibilities with me.

So when I turned in my draft a few days later, he made the necessary structural changes. Bu t Roland didn't stop there. He took the story home with him and essentially re wrot e it. As you know, this is similar to my work method. I often write at home. (He hates that for some reason.) Roland brought the story into me on Friday morning, a little after nine, breathless. This is another habit that I unfortunately possess, bringin g the story in a little late rather than a little early. Like an original writer's draft none of Roland's changes to my text were highlighted or bold faced. My last-min ute task then became to edit my work without an editor's assistance. Of course, it wa sn't really my work anymore. It had been significantly altered, rearranged, revised -- and not always for the better.

As I've told you, in rechecking the story I found four factual errors in the story, including a spelling error and the changing of a da te of a critical ordinance. The mistakes were inserted by Roland, the managing editor. By accident or design, he essentially had turned the tables on me and gave me a hint of what the editor is up against day-to-day. I was getting the opportunity to shar e the editing responsibilities as he had told me I would.

Given the context of the circumstances behind the incident, I do n't think I'm being paranoid to wonder whether the errors were inserted intentionally. Th ere certainly exists a possibility that Roland risked the accuracy of the story to make his point. I would never jeopardize the integrity of a story just to get even with somebody.

As a footnote, this is not the first time that I have caught errors. In previous cases, however, the sightings have been after the fact. I blamed the mistakes on the other writers, which I don't believe is true now. They more likely originated at the managing editor's desk. You caugh t Roland's "ripping out the heart" mixed metaphor in my story. It was atrocious writing by any standard. In Rushton's story on drug court, there was a line about th e judge "quietly listening." This is an impossible task, of course. You can't "q uietly listen" anymore than you can loudly listen.

When I pointed this out to Roland, he became defensive and came up with an irrational list of examples to th e contrary; stuff about Baptist preachers railing among other things. I don't know what the point was exactly other than to possibly attack my religious background. Later, he saw me in the lobby and told me to quit reading the newspaper.

He doesn't have any sense of color or detail. In fact, he has aversion to these writing devices. He thinks they are superfluous. When he wrote his story on the ambulance service last year, he said that the goal was to "clunk up" or pad the introduction with a bu nch of meaningless detail, which would conform to the New Times narrative style. And that's essentially what he did. The introduction meanders along, talking about a fish on the wall for paragraph after paragraph. Then he uses some pretext of a transition as a hook line. Get it? The only writing that he has contributed to the newspape r - in a year -- has been a parody its style.

Executing My Scoop: Klose Kills the Amrine Lede 

In the summer of 2000, I did a Riverfront Times cover story on the death penalty. Missouri Nixon AG Jay Nixon was suing Benetton, an Italian clothing manufacturer, for allegedly gaining access to prisoners at Missouri Correctional Center in Jeferson City under false pretenses. What Nixon was really pissed at was the fact that the company put out a catalouge that included interviews with death row inmates around the U.S., including four from Missouri. Among those interviewed in Missouri was Joe Amrine. Amrine has since been released from prison because his conviction was overturned. But, at the time, nobody had put two and two together concerning Amrine's appearance in the Benetton catalouge and his apparent innocence. It was news and I instinctively sensed. But my managing editor, Roland Klose, thought otherwise. He said that Amrine was nothing more than Benetton's poster boy and he killed my lede -- which had featured the Amrine case. We argued about this viciously. But in the end, Klose won, simly because he outranked me. He's the boss, a prison warden in his own right. A couple years later, after Klose helped get me fired, the RFT republished a story about Amrine from the Pitch in Kansas City. By this time, it was clear that Amrine was innocent and soon would have his conviction overturned. The Pitch is owned by New Times, the Phoenix-based chain that also owns the RFT. I had a chance to break the story years earlier but Klose refused to give Amrine's case the prominence it deserved. It was, at the very least, poor news judgment. More than that, though, it made clear to me just how little compassion Roland Klose had towards anybody. He was truly souless. Now he sits on the board of advisers of the St. Louis Journalism Review.


“I am not ready to die.”
The words are those of Missouri death row inmate Josesph Amrine, who stands convicted of murdering a fellow prisoner. The crime took place 15 years ago, and except for those close to the case it has been forgotten. The public wouldn’t be familiar with the name, if not for a catalogue published by the Benetton Group, an Italian clothing manufacturer. The quote appears on the first page of a 96-page booklet, We on Death Row, published earlier this year. Benetton’s $20 million media blitz, which also included magazine advertisements, and billboards, featured photographs and interviews with 26 inmates who await execution in several states. Amrine and three other condemned prisoners are incarcerated at the Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Mo.
After the insert was distributed in Talk magazine, it raised the hackles of death penalty supporters and the families of victims. Sears Roebuck responded by dropping its contract to sell Benetton goods nationwide and law enforcement fraternities railed against the campaign. They and others accused the company of exploiting convicted murderers and using their images to further its own profit motivated interests. In Missouri, Attorney General Jay Nixon took up the banner by filing a lawsuit against the company in Washington County. Also named in the suit are Italian photographer Oliverio Toscani, free-lance writer Ken Shulman, Speedy Rice of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Rice’s assistant. The state has charged the sweater maker and the other defendants with trespassing on state property by misrepresenting the commercial nature of the project.

nut grafs
At heart of the issue, though, is the Missouri attorney general’s ardent defense of the right of the state to impose the death penalty. Beyond the narrow focus of the lawsuit Nixon’s efforts appear to be aimed at penalizing Benetton for putting its name on a publication that takes a close look at capital punishment here and elsewhere — through the eyes of those sentenced to die.
Critics who have attacked Benetton’s campaign, including the attorney general, note that any mention of the brutal and savage nature of the crimes for which these men have been convicted are conspicuously absent from the catalogue. Placed outside the confines of their criminal histories, these men (and one woman) are too easily portrayed as victims themselves, the death penalty advocates say. But there is an opposite side to this argument, too. The catalogue fails to mention, for instance, that all three witnesses against Armine have recanted their testimony and a former prison guard has placed another inmate at the scene of the murder.
In the opinion of the Missouri Attorney General’s office, the possibility that one of the four inmates featured in the Benetton catalogue may be innocent is not relevant to the case. Guilt or innocence, life or death, the absolute power of the state, these issues are not relevant to the case. Benetton and other defendants are simply guilty of trespassing, according to the state of Missouri. They must be
prosecuted so that other commercial camera crews won’t attempt to unlawfully break into Missouri’s death row in the future.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Serpico Appointed to Chicago's International Port Authority by Thompson 

More purloined cyber clips on Chicago mobster John Serpico, who apparently was appointed to the Chicago Port Authority by Gov. Big Jim Thompson, now a 9-11 commissioner.

Chicago union bureaucrat convicted on loan schemes

A US District Court jury in Chicago found former Laborers Union International Vice
President John Serpico and two associates guilty of using control over multiple union funds
to obtain personal loans. Eight banks provided 17 loans in the 12-year scheme that led to Serpico’s conviction on six of seven counts of mail fraud.

In one case Serpico deposited $4 million with Capitol Bank and Trust, a small neighborhood bank that also administered $16 million in union pension funds. In return Serpico received $5 million in personal loans at f avorable rates. The bank admitted the scheme, paid $800,000 in fines and its two leading officers are banned from banking. Serpico was also convicted of sharing in $330,000 of kickbacks after the union provided $6.5 million loan for a financially tro uble d hotel project.

Maria Busillo, who had a personal relationship with Busillo and assumed his positions in the Laborers union, was also convicted in the scheme. She used loans to purchase a $900,000 house in suburban Glenview, Illinois, whose mortgage pay ments exceed her gross pay, as well as a condominium on Marco Island in Florida. The 70-year-old Serpico, who is alleged to have had long ties to Mafia elements, also received appointments to the Illinois International Port District from two former governors.

Labor Racketeer John Serpico's Knowledge of the Federal Witness Protection Program 

An excerpt from the Chicago Tribune courtesy of Skolnick's Reports:

Longtime after 1991, it came out that the then head of the Federal
Witness Protection Program in Chicago was also a business partner of a

"Marshal linked to mob 'fri end' " was the headline. The story
went on to say, "Most troubling to the law enforcement community is
that the U.S. Marshals Service runs the ultra-secretive federal witness
protection program, where mob turncoats cooperating with the
government hid from their old pals. Mobsters who turn on their
associates are relocated for their safety -- often with their extended
families--and given new identities, jobs, cash and even bodyguards."

The Chicago Sun-Times story about gangster John Serpico and former U.S.Marshal Peter J. Wilkes. 8/16/1999.

Code Orange: Nii-Jii, the Mob and Cellini 

I watched "Big Jim" Thompson grill National Security Advisor Condi Rice before the 9-11 Commission this morning. Thompson appeared firm and confident in his questioning over the terrorist threat to the U.S. Of course, he wasn't the one in the hot box. Seeing his fat face fill the TV screen made me think that nobody's ever really questioned Big Jim about his ties to William Cellini, the CEO of Argosy, owner of the Alton Belle Casino.

There are a lot of unconnected dots in Thompson's 12-year reign in Illinois because, for one, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been lax in covering Illinois downstate political corruption over the years.

But through the wonders of Google, I am starting to put the pieces together.

Let's see what I can recall of the top of my head:

1. St. Louis political powerbroker Floyd Warmann was nominated to a position on the St. Louis County police board earlier this year by St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. The appointment led me to check Dooley campaign fianace records, which showed that he received $2,000 from Alvin Malnik of Miami Beach in 2000, when he ran u nsuccessfully for Congress. Malnik, a loan shark, is a protege of mob financier Meyer Lansky. Malnik helped Lansky set up a casino in the Bahamas in the 1960s. But I digress.

2. Warmann received boodles of cash in the form of a "loan" from Argosy in t he mid 1990s, when the gambling company was interested in opening a casino at a spot on the St. Louis riverfront controlled by Floyd. Argosy paid down hundreds of thousands (or was it a mil?) in Floyd's debts and paid him a more than generous monthly consulting fee.

3. Argosy is controlled by William Cellini of Springfield, Ill., a Republican fat cat donor to Gov. Big Jim Thompson. And Cellini's sister worked as a top a ide for the three-term Illinois governor.

4. During Big Jim's gubernatorial administration, Cellini received tens of millions in state loans to open a hotel in Springfield. He never paid back most of the money. Hmmm.

5. This is where it gets inte re sting: Argosy forms a casino partnership a couple years ago with an outfit in Chicago called Nii-Jii Entertainment, founded by former congressman Morgan Murphy Jr.The plan was to build a casino for the Menominee tribe at a former dog track in Kenosha, Wisc. Argosy lent Nii-Jii a cool $1 million to buy into the deal. The deal fell through when Murphy was found to have ties to labor racketeer and mobster John Serpico. Serpico, a former Laborers Union boss, was tight with guess who? -- Big Jim, Cellini's crony and the guy who is now sitting on the 9-11 Commission.

Yes, indeedy, tis a small cirlce of friends: Floyd Warmann -- Willi am Cellini -- Gov. Big Jim Thompson -- John Serpico -- Morgan Murphy Jr... [read more]

Here's an excerpt from a Laborers Union reform group's web site, which details Serpico's mob background:

"... Then, citing a Presidential report on organized crime, Gow listed several other Laborers’ officials as Mob guys in cluding the late Al Pilotto, former head of Laborers’ Local 5 in Chicago Heights and John Serpico, one-time boss of La borers’ Local 8. Serpico was, until just two years ago, one of the best politically-connected Laborers’ Union Mob guys in the Chicag o a rea, counting former Illinois Governor James Thompson and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley among his cronies. However, Serpico was dumped from his Laborers’ post in an earlier round of purging of Mob guys.

ALSO, IT WAS THE Serpico connection that prompted LIU N A President Arthur Coia to originally admit that there might be something to the age-old rumors that organized crime figures dominate the affairs of the Laborers’ Union. In May of 1995, Coia told an internal union investigating panel—created under threat of Justice Department sanctions—of a meeting he had at O’Hare Airport with Vince Solano and John Serpico.

Coia said he was told by Serpico to fly into O’Hare for the meeting. Once there, Solano told Serpico to take a walk and then, in a matter of minutes, Solano told Coia that the Mob had determined that Serpico was to become the next LIUNA President, period.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Extra! Extra! RFT Reports Real News (Once Every Six Weeks or So)  

"It's a bourgeois town, I'm going to spread the news around." -- Leadbelly

This week's Riverfront Times takes an in-depth look at two competing plans for trolley systems in St. Louis. The downtown plan is backed by Rep. Lacy Clay, whereas, the U City version is Joe Edwards' brainchild.

Reporter Mike Seely, who is better known for his fictional cover stories, cites upteen sources in exposing the down side of the downtown proposal. This story should have been on the cover instead of the lame hip-hop feature but, of course, New Times, the owner of the RFT requires that cover stories be too long for anybody to read.

Depsite the valiant effort, the story still misses the mark because it doesn't mention that both plans ar e geared towards entertainment and tourism rather than actually providing public transportation to those who depend on it. Nice try Mike. If your editors weren't born bourgeois they might have provided you better guidance.

Jefferson County: A Good Place for a Hit Job  

Where better place to go to carry out a mob hit than Jefferson County, Sheriff Buck Buerger's home turf. The late Jesse Stoneking, an Eastside mobster turned FBI informant, is suspected of murdering pipefitter Donald Ellington in 1978.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Oct. 24, 1978
no byline

A 300-pound race track bartender found shot to death inside his burning car had apparently been working as a "muscle man" for Southern Illinois underworld figures, according to police sources.

Sources close to th e Major Case Squad also said Donald Ellington, 47, of 108 Middlegate Lane, Collinsville, was an ex-convict and had been associated with police characters.

Ellington, a bartender at Cahokia Downs race track, was found dead in his car about 8:30 p.m. Sund ay by residents on Route TT near Highway 61 five miles south of Festus in Jefferson County.

He had been shot twice in the face, probably with a .38-caliber revolver. Police said it appeared that Elligton had set out to meet someone at the scene of the s hooting.

Ellington was sitting in the driver's seat of his 1974 Cadillac when his assailant apparently shot him through the right side passenger windwo. Policce said the window was rolled down about six inches and at least one of the shots had shattered the glass. The window was covered with blood.

Police said the fire under the hood of the car broke out when Ellington slumped into his seat and his foot fell onto the accelerator causing the engine to overheat.

Residents in the neighborhood heard the shots and went to the scene. An auto was seen leaving the area, but police said they have not been able to get a good description of it.

Authorities say they are making a thorough investigation of Ellington's activities in Southern Illinois and have ruled out robbery as a motive.

Jefferson County Sheriff Walter "Buck" Buerger said Ellington, a marride man, left his home at 7 p.m., apparently to meet someone.

Buerger said, "Whoever went there (to meet Ellington) didn't want to talk."

The Jefferson County R-7 fire department quickly extinguished the fire, and Ellington's body was not burned.

Maj. Robert Lowery of the Major Case Squad said Ellington was identified by documents he was carrying, including a pipefitters union card.

Ellington has a prison record, Lowery said, but gave no details. ô

Entering the Bizarro World of Jeff Co. and The Kauffman Drug Ring 

In 1978, Judge Murry Randall of the St. Louis Circuit Court testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Randall, a former criminal defense attorney, was called before the committee because a former client, Russell Byers, had allegedly told him of a $50,000 contract offer he received to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King. One of those making the offer was alleged to be the late John Kauffmann of Jeffeson County. During his testimony, Randall stated that Byers had told him that Kauffmann was operating a drug trafficking operation out of an old motel on Highway 67 in Jefferson County. Kauffmann's company was called Fixaco. Randall testified that Sheriff Buerger was involved in the drug operation.

On Nov. 27, 1967, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Henry Geerdes pleaded no contest to the charge of violating federal drug laws for his part in the sale of illegal "pep pills." Other defendents included Kauffmann and his wife Beulah; Daryl Keith, executive president of Drugmaster Inc.; Emerson S. Jared of House Springs; and Bernard Chubet, a former broker from New York; and Anthony K.S. Chang, a Chinese Nationalist and former New York importer-exporter.

Byers, a suspect in the 1978 St. Louis Art Museum burglary, was a friend of Kauffmann's brother, the late Gil Kauffmann, a former St. Louis County assistant coroner.

In 1957, newly elected St. Louis County Coroner Raymond I. Harris represented John Kauffmann, Chubet and J.K. Williams, a Houston dime-store-fortune heir, in trying to license and develop a $1.25 million dog track in St. Louis County.

Buerger Bought Used Cars from Anthony Leisure 

In 1983, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that the Jefferson County sheriff's department, The Crystal City police department and the Festus police department all bought used cars from a a firm owned by St. Louis mobster Anthony Leisure.

William Pagano, a friend of Buerger's, served as Festus police chief. He was later found guilty of murder and committed suicide before he began serving his sentence.

The law enforcement agencies bought the vehicles form Leisure's Twin City Auto Auction in Barnhart.

The Many Faces of Crime Fighter Buck Buerger 

St. Louis Post Dispatch, Dec. 10, 1972
by James E. Sprehe

Reports that the hoodlum element in in the labor movement is attempting to get a foothold in Jefferson County where the Union Electric Co. is building another multi-million-dollar plant have prompted Sheriff Walter "Buck" Buerger to issue a warning.

Buerger said that he would arrest on sight any known hoodlum or former convict and hold him for questioning. ...

Buerger Resigned Over Sex Harassment Charge; Vasel Takes Over 

In 1991, Jefferson County Sheriff Buck Buerger resigned from the deparment. His resignation came in the wake of a sex scandal. Elaine Byers, a deputy, filed a federal suit claiming that Buerger had made sexual advancements towards her.

I just noticed looking at the clip that Byer's, the plaintif in the case, has the same last name as Russell Byers, the head of a car theft ring in Jefferson County in the late 1960s. According to testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, Buerger was involved in drug trafficking operation (see entry below).

After Buerger resigned, who took his place as interim sheriff -- none other than former St. Louis County detective Pete Vasel, who had worked for Mark and Alan Molasky in the 1970s. Old Pete gets around, doesn't he?

Dope Peddler Buck Buerger, the Speed Freak's Friend 

Old Malibu McClellan is back from vacation and waxing nostalgic, as is the custom of yours truly.

Malibu's column in today's Post-Dispatch has to do with the return of a pet turkey of all things. More interesting, the turkey's owner is a retired Jefferson County detective, who was instrumental in nailing former Festus police chief William Pagano for the 1990 murder of Mark "Tim" Todd.

As Malibu relates, Pagano, a political powerbroker, was best buds with Jefferson County Sheriff Buck Buerger.

The mention of Buerger's name made me think of the Murry Randall's testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations way back in 1978.

Randall, who tried to keep from testifying out of fear for his life, told the HSCA about a drug ring tha t was busted out in Jeff Co. in 1967. Buerger's tenure as county sheriff stretched back to that time.

Randall, who was formerly a criminal defense attorney, was subpoened because his former client St. Louis Art Museum burglary suspect Russell Byers had s upposedly told him of an offer he received in 1966 from two businessmen to assassinate the Rev. Martin Luther King. The two men, wbo were dead by 1978, were John Kauffman and John Sutherland -- both of Jefferson County. At the time, Byers was running a ch op shop for stolen cars out of a motel in Kimmswick. The hotel was also used as a headquarters for a speed trafficking operation. Here's part of Randall's testimony relating to Buerger:

"He (Byers) said that at the time he had an arrangement with the she riff (Buerger) of Jefferson County. I do not think the privelage extends to me explaining the details of that arrangement.

"Suffice to say that he (Byers) said through his connections with the sheriff (Buerger) of Jefferson County he met this man named K auffmann. Is that his name?> My is memory is that it was Kauffmann, the crippled man.

"... He said that how he met him was this: That the sheriff (Buerger) was engaged also in the business of peddling narcotic drugs, and in fact he told me that the sher iff was later indicted and convicted for it." (This is wrong. One of Buerger's deputies was convicted)

Mr. Blakey. "Excuse me, Judge. The sheriff was obtaining them from Kaufmann?"

Judge Randall. "From Kauffmann, yes. Mr. Byers denied he had any connect ion with narcotics drugs. Mr. Byers denied there was two crimes he never engaged in. One was murder and the other was narcotic drugs.

"So he said at this time the sheriff (Buerger) was getting a supply of narcotics drugs from Kauffmann and Kauffmann was obtaining them in this fashion. Kauffmann had a medical manufacturing business located in Jefferson County in an old motel over on Old Highway 67, just north of Kohler City Shopping Center.

"Now, Kohler City Shopping Center is not an incoroporation, a municipality. It is a shopping center which has been there since I was a boy. I think it is in our near the town of Imperial., the municipality of Imperial.

"He said he was manufacturing these medicines in this motel and he had a narcotics license and s o he was able to obtain narcotics. He said that he thought that it was a front for the narcotics business.

"He said that he had associated with him in this business a doctor who was employed by the Missouri prison system (Hugh Maxey). At least he did no t give me his name.

"He said that both Kauffmann and the doctor were dead, to his knowledge, at the time he was telling me. He said that he spent some time, in his spare time, hanging around the motel.

"He worked mainly at night in his business, Mr. B yers did, so he had the daytimes to hang around there. I do not recall whether he ever met the doctor or not, sir, or whether he told me whether he met the docotr. The doctor, he thought, was dead.

"He said that in addition to that there was a farm that adjoined the motel. The motel was along the highway. I could picture this area a little bit.

"Highway 67 was no longer a traveled route. Highway I-55 had replaced it. So motels were of no use. So, they had this motel and he was manufacturing this medicine. ..."

Carter Stith Was Leaked FBI Report 

During his testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, Judge Murry Randall was asked about a conversation he had with client Russell Byers. Byers was identified by the HSCA as being the recipient of an offer to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The allegation was based on a misfiled 1973 FBI interview with informant Richard O'Hara.

At the time, the late Carter Stith, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter was covering the courthouse beat. Somehow Stith was leaked the FBI report pertaining to Randall's coversation with Byers. Or was it O'Hara's report? It's unclear from the context of the testimony

Mr. Blakey. ... Will you tell the committee what the conversation was?

Judge Randall. Before I undertake to do that I would like to say something about my memory on this thing.

This event was a wholly insignificant event to me. I never once thought about it again until Mr. Byers called me upon returning from Washington when he was questioned out here and told me that he had supplied my name.

I gave it very little thought thereafter until a few months ago when Carter Stith, a reporter for the Post-Dispatch, visited me and told me she had a copy of the FBI report, which was news to me, and she had my name. ...


A Big Box Walgreens Comes to Clayton 

The old Parkmoor restaurant at Big Bend and Clayton Road is no more. It's been razed for a giant new Walgreen's drug store. What a waste.

Wash U Student Puts Money Where His Mouth Is 

I don't even have a printer here at Media Mayhem Central Command. For hard copies, I go to Olin Library on the Washington University campus. Yesterday, after doing my print job, I stopped by the campus bookstore to buy a highlighter. The student in front of me at the check out counter was buying a tube of Colgate toothpaste. It cost $5.29. I guess he was too busy to go down to the Dollar Store at St. Louis Marketplace, where I do my shopping.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Lawrence: Spica's Killing Preceded by Mysterious Trip 

A few days before he was killed in a car bombing, Mafia soldier John Paul Spica made a mysterious three-day trip in December 1979. Following his murder, police sources speculated that his death may have somehow been tied to his weekend travels, according to a Dec. 23, 1979 story by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ronald Lawrence.

The story revealed that Spica was associated with St. Louis Mafia boss Anthony Giordano's Eastside vending machine company, BGG, which was located in Fairmont City, Ill. Giordano would have had to have been given permission by the Chicago Outfit's Southern Illinois representatives to operate on the Eastside, according to Lawrence's story.

Spica died outside of his Richmond Heights apartment on Claytonia Terrace on Nov. 7, 1979, when a car bomb detonated after he turned the ignition key. He shared the apartment with Dina Bachelier, who worked at BGG Vending.

In the summer of 1978, Spica gave closed-door testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. His brother-in-law, Russell Byers was also a witness before the committee. Byers, a suspect in the unsolved 1978 St. Louis Art Museum heist, testified that he had received a $50,000 contract offer to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966. According to Byers, the offer came from two St. Louisans: businessmen John Kauffman and patent attorney John Sutherland. Both men were dead by 1978.

Spica was also involved in labor racketeering having to do with one of St. Louis Laborers locals. His murder remains unsolved.

Spica was convicted for contracting the murder of John T. Myszak, a real estate salesman in 1963. Spica served only ten years in the Missouri Pen at Jeff City for the crime. He served his sentence at the same time that James Earl Ray was incarcerated there. The prosecution alleged that Spica carried out the crime at the request of Myszak's wife, who was acquitted in a separate trial.

The detective who busted Spica for the murder was none other than County detective Pete Vasel, who claimed that same year, on local television, that there was no Mafia in St. Louis. (see entry below)

Why would Vasel lie?

Pete Vasel on Channel 2 in 1963: There Is No Mafia in St. Louis 

In August 1963, St. Louis County police detective Pete Vasel reassured TV views that there was no organized criminal activities in the St. Louis area.
After he left the department under a cloud years later, Vasel worked for Mark and Alan Molasky. The Mol asky publishing distribution business was busted by city cops for obscene materials in the 50. Before that patriarch Willie Molasky ran Pioneer News Service, which supplied handbooks with racing odds. Originally, Willie's partners were Bev Brown and Gull y Owen. After they pushed out Molasky continued to front the company, along with Brown's son, for the Chicago outfit.

In 1980, Vasel went to work for Ben Fixman, owner of Diversified Industries, as a "labor reations" expert at Scullin Steel.

St. L ouis Globe-Democrat, Aug. 12, 1963:

No Crime Network Here, Vasel Says

Secret crime societies are not operating in the St. Louis area, Capt. F. J. Vasel, chief of detectives of the St. Louis County Police Department said on KTVI's "Pro and Con" show Sunday.

He said there is no doubt that a crime network such as the Mafia does exist in some sections of the United States.

However, the syndicate gets most of its income from narcotics, prositution and gambling, none of which is a serious problem in the city of the county.

Therefore, he concluded, he does not think a secret society exists in the area.

Dealing for Dollars: The Sansone Saga 

The Public Road to Riches

There is, of course, no chance the elder Sansone will ever be displaced by a TIF project. The 73-year-old developer is ensconced far from the bulldozers’ roar, residing safely in the tony St. Louis County suburb of Huntleigh, where, according to St. Louis County property records, he occupies a 15-room mansion, which has seven baths and a market value of almost $1.5 million.

Reaping TIF benefits is but the latest good fortune to befall the Sansone clan, whose financial affairs have often flourished in the gray realm where private interests and public policy merge. No St. Louisan has brokered this high-stakes game with the same degree of acumen as the elder Sansone.

It is not an unblemished record, though. Over the years, newspaper accounts have alleged a litany of improprieties from which Sansone’s business interests have reportedly profited. Many of the accounts contain references to associations with political and organized crime figures.

Although Federal Election Commission records now show him doling out thousands of dollars to Republican congressman Jim Talent, Sansone’s political roots go back to his days as the Democratic committeeman for the city’s 25th Ward. In 1964, he acted as campaign manager in Alfonso J. Cervantes’ successful mayoral bid.

Cervantes and Sansone owned the Consolidated Service Car, a fleet of jitneys that served blacks in North St. Louis. After winning the Democratic mayoral primary, Cervantes sold his half of the business to Sansone, who then resold the company for $625,000 to Bi-State Development Corp. The sale eliminated the publicly-funded transit system’s competition.

Once in office, Cervantes named Sansone’s brother to the influential post of city assessor. Prior to this appointment, Joseph C. Sansone was a partner with Anthony Sansone Sr. in the family’s real estate business. Co. By 1967,Sansone Realty Co., then located at 4705 Hampton Ave., had its property taxes reduced by more than 50 percent, according to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

Besides his real estate dealings, Anthony F. Sansone Sr. held the exclusive 20-year contract with the city for limousine service at Lambert Field. After labor troubles developed in 1982, Sansone sold the business to state Sen. J.B. "Jet" Banks.

A decade earlier, a Life magazine story focused national attention on Cervantes' relationship with Sansone and Morris Shenker, the late St. Louis mob lawyer. The story alleged among other things that Sansone had arranged a campaign strategy session between Cervantes and his father-in-law Jimmie Michaels, the head of the Syrian organized crime faction in St. Louis. At a subsequent meeting, Sansone purportedly met with Michaels and Anthony "Tony G" Giordano, then the leader of the St. Louis Mafia.

Sansone's associations drew additional scrutiny in 1972, when he appeared as a witness in a federal racketeering trial in Los Angeles. Under oath, he testified that in 1967 he had withdrawn a $150,000 investment in the Frontier casino in Las Vegas, after being notified he would be required to apply for a Nevada gaming license. Federal prosecutors had alleged that Mafiosi in St. Louis and Detroit were trying to gain illegal control of the casino.Sansone was alleged to have traveled to Las Vegas with Giordano to make the investment. Sansone denied the charge, but admitted that he was acquainted with Giordano because of the close friendship between their fathers. Sansone's father was a bondsman who had received a two year federal sentence in 1937 for a narcotics violation, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

During the Cervantes administration, Sansone's real estate business prospered. In one lucrative airport expansion deal, for example, he received a $200,000 fee for negotiating a 12-acre flight easement over Washington Park Cemetery, along with the sale of 8.74 acres of cemetery property to the city. The total cost of the acquisition -- $1.2 million -- was more than double the estimated value cited in an appraisal made by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In an earlier airport land transaction, Sansone received a $83,000 fee for negotiating the sale of a half-acre on Lindbergh Boulevard. The overall cost to the city on this deal: $260,000.

With the passage of time, these scandalous headlines have been all but forgotten. The Sansone Group, as it is now called, goes about its business with relative anonymity, as does the competition. The stories that chronicle the potential abuses of TIF are buried in the business section, or relegated to the pages of small neighborhood weeklies. The few voices calling for reform have thus far been ignored. No one is minding the store and the till has been left unguarded. TIF legitimizes public plunder. It reinforces the kind of faulty reasoning that makes it possible for someone to tear down hundreds of houses and replace them with acres of asphalt parking lot and then have the audacity to call it a "conservation area." However venal this concept may be, it is altogether legal, and those who build the Big Boxes can rationalize that they are, after all, paying well beyond market value for this obsolete housing stock, while, at the same time, adding to the economic development of the community -- even if nobody lives there anymore.

I Know My Retirement Will Make No Difference in Its "Cardinal" Principles  

I know my retirement will make no difference in it cardinal principles, that it will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privela ged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plut o cracy or predatory poverty. -- Joseph Pultizer

I'm sure Joesph Pulitzer wasn't making a pun when he penned his retirement letter on April 10, 1907. His parting words became the platform of the newspaper, guiding its editorial direction through the decades, at least until lately.

In April 1907, the baseball season undoubtedly was just getting underway, too, of course. Unless he was a clairvoyant, Old Joe would have had no way of knowing how business, politics and sports would merge, or how this merger would cause this his words to be ignored in the 21st-Century version of the Post-Dispatch.

Instead of adhering to the newspaper's "cardinal principles," the Post-Dispatch nowadays is more interested in "Cardinals' profits." Profit is what the newspaper is all about, after all. But when profit gets in the way of reporting the news the Post-Dispatch is breaking the public trust by not abiding by its own platform.

How can the newspaper be an independent advocate for the poor and be devoted to public welfare, when its chairman and the company itself are in business with public plunderers?

Today, in it's advance story on the St. Louis Cardinals' opening game, The Post-Dispatch didn't overplay George W.'s campaign stop here today to throw out the first pitch. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the newspaper buried a story on how the Bush Bund is spinning the news in Iraq on page seven this morning instead of leading with it above the fold on the front page. That would have been a nice greeting for George W.

Even the headline that the Post-Dispatch ran for the Associated Press story was soft: "Press Office with GOP loyalists in Iraq stresses the positive; critics see it as arm of Bush campaign, a charge that is denied."

The wire service lede is much more direct:

"Baghdad, Iraq -- Inside the marble-floored palace hall that serves as the press office of the U.S.-led coalition, Republican operatives lead a team of Americans who promote mostly good news about Iraq. ..."

One of the PR team's recent press releases had to do with the launching not of guerrilla attacks on U.S.
forces -- but a "beautification campaign" in Baghdad. Springtime in Baghdad, ah, yes, the smell of flowers and burning flesh.

Another press release cautioned that "reality is nothing like what you see on television." That's right. You can't smell the burning flesh.

Unlike their trained British counterparts, members of the American press office are mostly political hacks with no knowledge or understanding of the Iraqi language or culture, the wire serv ice reported.

Six of the "Coalition" spokespeople in Baghdad worked for Bush's presidential campaign in 2000, according to the story. The top banana is Dan Senor, a former press secretary for Spencer Abraham, who is now Bush's Secretary of Energy. Senor formerly worked for the Carlyle Group, a defense contractor that has already made boodles of cash from the Iraqi war. Bush the Elder sits on the board of Carlyle. Other directors and officers in the company have longstanding ties to the military-industri al complex.

The Post-Dispatch should have put this story on the front page in honor of George W.'s
appearance here today, but it didn't. Among George W.'s top financial donors are members of the St. Louis Cardinal ownership. They include: William DeWitt Jr., Mercer Reynolds, Dudley Taft, Robert Castellini, Fred Hauser and Stephen Brauer. These guys have all contributed millions of dollars to George W. and the Republicans over the years. In fact, DeWitt and Reynolds made George W. richer by making him part of the Texas Ranger organization in the 1980s. The sportsmen's help came at a time when George W.'s oil business had just went belly up.

Chairman Michael Pulitzer and the Pulitzer Co., the owner of the Post-Dispatch also share an ownership stake in the Cardinals.

This means the newspaper is compromised and cannot report the news in the manner that it should. Mr. Pulitzer and the company should divest themselves of their investments in the Cardinals organization.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?