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The Casino Beat

More than 20 years ago the RFT dragged its feet reporting on the Michael Lazaroff scandal. Some people prefer to forget about it.

Mobbed Up: On Oct. 14, 1992, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Phil Linsalata revealed that Station Casino founder Frank J. Fertitta Jr. helped skim millions from Vegas casinos for the Kansas City Mafia. When a scandal later broke over the casino company’s illegal activities in Missouri in 1999 and 2000, the Riverfront Times failed to report on Fertitta’s ties to organized crime. Then-RFT managing editor Roland Klose is now an editor at the Post-Dispatch. The following story appeared on the Media Mayhem blog, Feb. 8, 2004. C.D. Stelzer is a former RFT staff writer.

If I had all this juicy information on Station Casino’s founder Frank J. Fertitta Jr. why didn’t I write the story? Why pass such rich material to a fellow reporter? Was I altruistic or just lazy? Well, it’s kind of a long story.
At a Riverfront Times staff meeting in late 1999, reporters were asked to submit issues that they were interested in covering. Among those I chose was the casino beat.
I had a good source — anti-casino lobbyist Steve Taylor. When I was still freelancing for the RFT in the  early 1990s, Taylor had provided me with accurate information. During this time, he was an environmental activist opposed to the Times Beach dioxin incinerator. I wrote a few dozen stories on the Times Beach Superfund Cleanup. One caught the DNR, EPA and their contractors cooking the books on the stack emission tests. Exposing this fraud won me top honors for investigative reporting in 1997 from the Missouri Press Association. Taylor leaked me reams of data that pointed to the corrupt practices. I knew I could trust him from experience. In his new job for an outfit called Casino Watch, he was down in Jefferson City during the legislative sessions, keeping tabs on the then nascent gambling industry. This meant he could relay developments in a timely manner.

But hard-hitting, timely casino coverage didn’t appear to be exactly what the RFT was looking for under the New Times ownership. After all, Station Casino, the gambling company that was ultimately kicked out the state and fined $1 million, ran full-page ads in the RFT every week. But at the time, I was still naïve enough to believe advertisers didn’t hold sway over editorial judgments.

A week after we submitted our choices for beat coverage, editor Safir Ahmed announced the selections that he and managing editor Roland Klose had made. I didnt’ get the casino beat. Bruce Rushton got it. (When I later wrote about the proposed Lemay casino, I pitched that idea to my editors as a St. Louis County

Roland Klose, former RFT managing editor.

development issue.)

As a result, when I got a tip in December 1999 from attorney Joe Jacobson that Michael Lazaroff, Station’s lobbyist/lawyer, was about to be busted for illegally meeting with Volvo dealer and state gaming board chairman James Wolfson, I handed it over to my editors. Within days of receiving the tip from Jacobson, Lazaroff attempted suicide. Lazaroff was then a law partner at Thompson Coburn. His office was next to former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton’s.]

This was a huge story and we had a jump on the Post-Dispatch. Being a good soldier and following the chain of command, I alerted my superiors, who assigned Rushton to cover the story.  But I was still curious about the case. So I did some digging on my own. I soon discovered (and it wasn’t very difficult) that Station’s founder had past ties with the Mafia, Because of his mob ties he had been forced to put Station’s Missouri gaming license in his son’s name. Suddenly, a huge story grew much, much larger. Dutifully, I also handed over this information to Rushton, Ahmed and Klose.

What happened? Nothing.

Former RFT staffer Bruce Rushton.

The biggest story I ever uncovered in my career and these three sat on it for a full 11 months. When Rushton’s cover story finally did see the light of day on Nov. 1, 2000, it didn’t even mention Frank J. Fertitta Jr. It barely mentioned his son. Of course, there was no reference to organized crime. Leaving out Fertitta was like writing a story about the Anheuser-Busch brewery and leaving out the name of August Busch III. Even if Feritta’s ties to the Mafia weren’t deemed important, Rushton could have still dropped a short paragraph or a sentence into the body of the story. He didn’t. His story was over 5,000 words long. So the omission wasn’t because he didn’t have enough space. And the omission wasn’t because he was ignorant. So how many reasons for this “oversight” are left other than those two?

Believe it or not, an earlier story by Rushton on Lazaroff didn’t even bother to mention Station Casino at all. Instead, it focused exclusively on illegal campaign contributions made by Lazaroff and his law partners. This story ran on July 12, 2000. Let me make this clear: Rushton — the casino beat reporter — wrote about a crooked casino lobbyist’s illegal activities but failed to even mention anything about Lazaroff’s largest client — Station Casino. By this point, Rushton already had been sitting on the story for eight months.

But it gets worse. After he wrote the less than definitive Lazaroff/Station’s story in the summer of 2000, the RFT sent him to Atlanta to cover a stock car race, as a part of a fluffy sports profile on some amateur driver.

Tipster Joe Jacobson.

I had been connected to the paper for a decade by this point and I never saw anything like that before. The RFT covers local issues mainly and only does limited sports coverage. It was unprecedented to send a reporter half way across the country to cover a minor sporting event. Unlike the Lazaroff/Station’s story, Rushton cranked out the race car story in a couple weeks. (Quantity not quality counts most at the RFT. Bruce had to keep up with his quota.) Then he went on vacation in August for two weeks just as the Lazaroff hearings were set to start.

His cover story wouldn’t run until November.

I remember the day he finally wrapped up the Lazaroff cover story. His spirits were buoyed. It was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. I saw him walking down the hall past my office. He was heading for the fire escape for a smoke break, as was his usual custom. But this time he hadn’t waited until he got outside to light up, and Bruce wasn’t smoking tobacco that day.

He bogarted the joint.

After prosecuting the mob trial in Kansas City for the Justice Department, David Helfrey moved across the state and set up shop as a white-collar criminal defense attorney.

Who’s Hiding What?

Don’t get distracted by the shell game, folks. Nobody hid the fact that Station Casino founder Frank J. Fertitta Jr. was an associate of organized crime from Riverfront Times reporter Bruce Rushton. The information was packaged neatly and placed in his hands — by me. I gave the same information to editor Safir Ahmed and managing editor Roland Klose, too.

But in the opus that Rushton wrote about attorney and gambling lobbyist Michael Lazaroff in the late fall of 2000, Rushton failed, for unknown reasons, to mention anything about Fertitta’s sordid past.

Flipper: Federal prosecutor-turned criminal-defense attorney David B.B. Helfrey.

He could have asked David Helfrey, Station’s outside counsel, about Fertitta, of course, because Rushton interviewed him. But apparently he chose not to ask any tough questions of Helfrey, who prior to becoming a criminal defense attorney, was a federal prosecutor in Kansas City. In that capacity, Helfrey was in a position to know about Fertitta’s organized crime background because FBI wiretap transcripts allude to Fertitta being involved in the Las Vegas skimming operation carried out by Carl Thomas, a casino executive who was recorded having conversations with Kansas City Mafia bosses Nick and Carl Civella among others in 1979. During the conversations, Thomas mentions Fertitta repeatedly as being a part of his crew, a crew that bilked the casinos out of millions and deposited the money into the hands of the Mafia families in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago. The case became the basis for Nicholas Pileggi’s 1995 non-fiction bestseller Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, which director Martin Scorcese made into a blockbuster movie, starring Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci.

Fertitta’s tainted background is the reason that he chose to put Station’s Missouri license in his son’s name — Frank J. Fertitta III. Rushton knew this because I gave him a copy of a story by former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Phil Linsalata from 1992, when Station’s was applying for the state license for the St. Charles casino. [In the 1992 story, Linsalata duly reported Fertitta Jr.’s Mafia ties.

Michael Lazaroff

Rushton also knew that Michael Lazaroff feared for his life and was given state police protection during and after the Missouri Gaming Commission hearings that were held in Jefferson City in the summer of 2000. He knew this because he was told as much by Steve Taylor, an anti-casino lobbyist who attended the hearings. I later confirmed Taylor’s recollection through Missouri Assistant Attorney Mike Bradley.

Why would Lazaroff be in fear of his life? Because another witness had died when asked to testify by the gaming board. Carl Thomas — the person who had direct knowledge of Fertitta’s organized crime connections — had been asked in 1993 to provide background information on his former employee to the Missouri Gaming Commission. Thomas traveled to Las Vegas from his home in Oregon to confer with Station’s executives in Las Vegas about the upcoming testimony. But he never made it to Missouri to testify. After his Vegas visit, Thomas returned to Oregon and died in a one-car accident.

Lazaroff’s own testimony refers to “Carl Thomas”, and the “Fremont” casino and “Argent” corporation, all of which were part of the Kansas City Mafia’s skim operation in Las Vegas in the 1970s. Rushton had a transcript of the Missouri Gaming Commission hearings in which Lazaroff made these references. He could have quoted directly from Lazaroff’s testimony. Instead, he chose to portray him as a clown.

At the hearings, retired FBI agent and former Gaming Commissioner William Quinn testified that he had

Frank J. Fertitta Jr., who died in 2006, skimmed casino cash for the Civella crime family of Kansas City.

talked to Helfrey, Station’s lawyer, on three occasions. Quinn already knew Helfrey because they had worked on the Operation Strawman cases together. Strawman was the FBI operation that resulted in the conviction of 19 Mafia members in the Midwest, including the Civella brothers of Kansas City, for skimming from the Hacienda, Fremont, Stardust and Tropicana casinos in Las Vegas.

The transcript of the Gaming Commission hearings, show that Quinn testified that on one occasion Helfrey asked him over the phone to meet with him and a Station’s representative. Quinn’s testimony shows that Helfrey had been retained after the Lazaroff scandal broke. In other words, Helfrey was already representing Station in a legal capacity. In short, Helfrey’s and Lazaroff’s legal services to Station Casino overlapped. They were both working for the same company at the same time. Moreover, if Helfrey and a Station’s representative had met with Quinn, it would have been comparable to Lazaroff’s violations in meeting with Gaming Commission chairman Wolfson. Such a meeting would have been in violation of the Commission’s “ex parte” rule, which was set up in 1994 to make sure that state gaming commissioners did not fall under the influence of the casinos that they were supposed to be regulating.
Quinn said he was concerned about his former colleague’s s suggestion and he refused to meet with Helfrey and the Station’s representative. Again, Rushton had the transcript of Quinn’s testimony. But instead of citing Quinn, he relied heavily on Helfey’s version of events in telling the story.

Nobody hid this information from Bruce Rushton. But he did manage to hide it from the public.

Canto One

Entering my seventh decade, I found myself under house arrest on the darkest of winter days, clad in plaid pajamas, listening to passenger jets passing over my hovel, they, carrying plague throughout the land, and me surrounded by baying hounds of hell in my neighbors’ backyards, I then chose to venture forth despite dire warnings from physicians and politicians alike, in search of solace, to my provincial city’s botanical garden, I did go.

On exiting the alley of my humble domicile, I did spy a white Chevrolet SUV adorned with U.S. government license plates on a back street of Maple Wood, and thus pondered why its driver chose to terry by the telephone pole that linked my shelter to the  babble known collectively as the Worldwide Web.

No rhyme or reason could I fathom why said imperial emissary would travel or linger in this undistinguished district far from the cradle of civilization, among its poor and destitute inhabitants. But neither did I dwell on his unexpected presence on this dreary day, commencing instead to travel without hesitation from my county fiefdom to the city proper and its exquisite amenities, where I walked through nature and did calm and replenish my body and soul.

On returning to the relative comfort of my dwelling place, I did there seek sanctuary, but was startled by visions through the ether, received via a cathode-ray tube, showing the glorious capitol edifice of our Empire under apparent siege by despicable vandals and huns, who entered into the corridors of power with seeming ease, and a dearth of resistance from our nation state’s sturdy and plentiful guardians of peace and tranquility.

The images so did awe and confuse me, I quaked with dread and thereby prayed them end for the good of all. Only in the wake of this chaotic scene, did I then pause and ruminate over the queer circumstances I witnessed from afar, and then worried of the sequence of events that had unfolded both in the hinterlands of my residency and in the far away fortified capital. Then did I wonder: If our omnipotent empire’s envoys do so occupy and patrol the provinces where we live, and watch over us all, and keep us safe from foreign and domestic agents of terror, and prevent us from harming one another and ourselves, why then were they unable to staunch the tide of the lowly rabble who entered unmolested into the hollowed halls of our empire’s most sacred temple?

Cosmetic Maintenance

OSHA closed its investigation of an unsafe work environment at a Richmond Heights construction site in October by taking the word of the construction company owner responsible for the abhorrent conditions.

When the wrecking crew from Flex Construction began demolition work on the apartment building at 7701-7703 Wise Ave. in Richmond Heights in early October, it didn’t bother getting a building permit or an asbestos inspection beforehand — nor were its workers provided with personal professional equipment.

“Light Cosmetic Maintenance.”

Lacking N-95 masks or other safety gear, they began gutting one of the apartments, while residents still occupied the other units. Interior walls were razed and flooring removed and dumped illegally.  During this process, which continued for days, potentially hazardous materials were released inside building, including asbestos, a known human carcinogen.

A complaint was subsequently filed with the St. Louis office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on behalf of the workers by a concerned citizen. But OSHA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, quickly dismissed the case based on the assurances of Diego Utera, the construction company owner.

In his written response to Complaint #1671686, OSHA duty officer John M Teel wrote:

“Flex Construction has advised me that the hazards you complained about have been investigated. The employer states that the employees are doing light cosmetic maintenance work.

“With the information provided, OSHA feels the case can be closed on the grounds that the hazardous condition do not exist,” wrote Teel.  “If you do not agree that the hazards you complained about have been satisfactorily abated, please contact us within ten (10) business days of the date of this notification. If we do not hear from you within that time, we will assume that the hazards have been corrected and will take no further action with respect to this case. …”

An appeal was immediately filed, which included photographs of the extensive demolition work and a list of other officials contacted at the municipal, county and state level. OSHA failed to reply to the appeal.

OSHA is not the only government agency that appears to have been lax in enforcing the law in this case. The Richmond Heights Building and Zoning Administration also blithely accepted the misrepresentations of Flex Construction and  Artemis Holdings LLC, the owners of the building. After tenants informed him of the demolition work, Richmond Heights Building and Zoning Administrator James Benedick continued to refer to the project as just “a little painting.”

After being cited for not securing a building permit, Flex Construction and Artemis Holdings submitted false information on its belated application, claiming work was limited to the remodeling of the kitchen and bath at a total cost of $500. When that characterization was challenged by residents of the building, a second permit was issued that increased the total cost to $5,000, but the permit still downplayed the renovation as a “remodeling” job.  In reality, the entire apartment was gutted and debris was hauled away, including all the walls and the asbestos-contaminated floor tiles.

Eventually, in late October, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health issued a Notice of Violation for failing to properly inspect the apartment for asbestos, which is against a federal EPA law.  The issues related to the asbestos abatement remain unsettled.

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The Millionaire Pothole Fund

Artemis Holdings co-owner James Ryan Redlingshafer Sr. lives behind these locked gates in Country Life Acres.

In this season of giving, it should warm the cockles of our hearts to know that the Missouri Department of Transportation has not forsaken the wealthiest of St. Louis County residents.

Although the millionaire denizens of the village of Country Life Acres in St. Louis County only received a small gift from MoDot last year, it’s the thought that counts.

In 2019, MoDot provided $2,964.20 to the exclusive gated community that prohibits public access to its roads. The total tax dollars annually doled out by the state transportation agency to this millionaires’ pothole fund is based on a formula that divvies up a combination of state revenue sources among cities based on population. Country Life Acres, with a population of 74, received public funds despite being a private enclave because it incorporated as a municipality in 1949. This qualifies the uber-rich subdivision to get a cut of the state fuel tax, vehicle sales tax and motor vehicle fees. Approximately, two-thirds of that money came from the state fuel tax.

When asked to explain why a private community is entitled to public funding of its roadways, a spokesman for MoDot suggested contacting state legislators about the issue. “Although in certain situations, as the one you describe, it may feel unfair, our elected lawmakers set it up in that way,” says Ryan Percy, the MoDot engineer assigned to Southwest St. Louis County. “They may be able to give you a better feel for why the law is set up this way, or perhaps, consider working with their counterparts to adjust the law.”

One of the village trustees is James Ryan Redlingshafer Sr., who purchased his five-acre estate in 2016 for $3.8 million. Redlingshafer is co-owner, with his son, of Artemis Holdings, a limited liability corporation cited for violations of building and environmental laws by the city of Richmond Heights and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health earlier this year. The health department issued Artemis Holdings a Notice of Violation for skirting federal environmental law pertaining to asbestos abatement involving the renovation of an apartment building in Richmond Heights. Artemis Holdings was also fined by the city of Richmond Heights for not obtaining a $70 building permit for the same building.

The trustee post is an elected position. That means Redlingshafer — a public official — owns a company that violated the law in another municipality located in the same county.

This bizarre circumstance can be largely attributed to the balkanized makeup of St. Louis County, which has 90 municipalities that are akin to fiefdoms. In this archaic system, wealthy landlords reap windfalls profits with few if any restrictions, as if they were midieval aristocrats exploiting their serfs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Realty

The phone number for Land and Apartments LLC sports a 314 Area Code, giving apartment hunters the perception they are calling a local real estate office. Instead, they’re being patched into the amorphous world of the Internet, where cloud-based communications are a tad more hazy.     

Bad sign: After tenants began asking questions about the interior demolition of a Richmond Heights apartment building, Land and Apartments belatedly incorporated.

If you’re interested in renting an apartment in St. Louis from Land and Apartments LLC, the real estate investment firm’s phone number is 314-800-0424. When you call that sequence of numbers, a pleasant recorded voice will greet you and politely ask you to leave a message.

Land and Apartments may be in the business of renting brick and mortar properties, but its phone number isn’t tied directly to the company’s physical office. In many respects, the concept of a tangible business address is an anachronism, a quaint idea leftover from the 20th Century.  Nowadays, a disembodied, anonymous voice in the nebulous ether asks you to provide personal information and says: “Your call will be returned as soon as possible.”

Welcome to the virtual world of Voice Operated Internet Protocol.

This technological innovation allows companies to create the appearance of being a neighborly business by using a local Area Code. In reality, the corporation could be located around the corner or around the world. There is no way of knowing for sure. It’s the same technology used by Skype and Google Talk. But in this particular VOIP application, phone numbers — including geographically-based Area Codes — are bought and sold for use over the Internet by various kinds of businesses, including the phone sex trade.

Three different online reverse phone directory searches indicate that 314-800-0424 belongs “B. Honey,” who apparently used the phone number in the past. One of the reverse phone directories lists B Honey as living in Kansas City even though the 314 Area Code is associated with St. Louis. Wherever B Honey is located, it’s a safe bet the name has nothing to do with an aviary.

Sharing the same phone number with the enigmatic “B. Honey” of Kansas City may be nothing more than a fluke, but the coincidental ties to Kansas City don’t stop there.

Last name first: Honey, B

In another simple twist of fate, the organizer of Land and Apartments LLC is listed by the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office as attorney Rex A. Redlingshafer, a partner in the Kansas City branch of the Dentons law firm. Redlingshafer is the nephew and cousin of James Ryan Redlingshafer Sr. and Jr., owners of Artemis Holdings LLC.

Artemis Holdings and Land and Apartments are both involved in the controversial redevelopment of a Richmond Heights apartment building that gained media attention last month, after the companies were cited for violations of the law by municipal and county agencies. Tenants complained to  Richmond Heights and St. Louis County Public Health Department officials about conditions inside the building during its demolition. As a result, occupants were forced to move during the pandemic, including two who were more than 80 years old. Richmond Heights fined Artemis Holdings for not initially applying for a building permit and the health department issued a formal Notice of Violation for skirting a federal environmental law pertaining to asbestos testing.

The building code and environmental law violations occurred prior to Dentons filing incorporation records for Land and Apartments on Oct. 9. It is not known whether Connor O’Leary, who appears to represent both companies, is the owner of Land and Apartments. O’Leary is affiliated with a third limited liability corporation, Central Investments LLC, which is located on the second floor above the Cut N Dye Hair Salon at 1051 S. Big Bend Blvd. in Richmond Heights.

State incorporation laws still shield the owners of limited liability corporations from being identified. However, the passage of the Corporate Transparency Act earlier this month should eliminate this loophole eventually. But for now LLCs continue to operate under the cloak of anonymity nationwide. Beginning with the leak of the Panama Papers in 2016, byzantine networks of limited liability corporations have been the subject of investigations that have uncovered how such shell companies are used by the wealthy to secretly acquire real estate, hide assets, and avoid taxes. The Caribbean is one of the favorite locations used for off-shore activities, including Barbados — where Dentons — the world’s largest law firm, has a presence.

Golden Boy

31-year-old Texas millionaire Phillip A. Rose, the director of a Mexican gold mine and two St. Louis real estate corporations, has a soft spot for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and so does his daddy.

Phillip A. Rose, whose wide-ranging business interests includes St. Louis real estate and a Mexican gold mine, contributed $5,000 to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s successful reelection campaign this year, according to campaign finance records. Rose’s father, retired Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway CEO Matthew K. Rose kicked in another $2,800 to McConnell’s coffers. The elder Rose contributed an additional $10,000 to the Kentucky Republican Party in 2020.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) enjoying his visit to Fort Knox in 2017. Mexican gold mine owner Phillip A. Rose and his father donated  more than $17,000 to the senator’s reelection campaign and the Kentucky Republican Party this year.

The two bundled payments by Phillip A. Rose represented his only political donations during the election cycle.

Father and son own controlling interest in the San Jose de Gracia gold mine in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, which is under control of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Roses are invested in the gold mine through a limited liability company, Golden Post Rail. Golden Post Rail owns an 80 percent stake in Dallas-based DynaResource.  Since 2017, the mine has been the alleged target of a money-laundering investigation by the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Mexican government, according to a press account published in La Razón newspaper in May.

McConnell did not support the Trump administration’s efforts to increase tariffs on Mexico last year.

In Missouri, Phillip A. Rose is the manager and director of two Texas-registered limited liability corporations active in real estate investment in St. Louis. His fellow manager and director in AKR Ventures LLC and RedRose Capital LLC. is James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr.

Redlingshafer Jr., 31, is also tied to another real estate business — Artemis Holdings LLC — with his father, James Ryan Redlingshafer Sr. Together they own a rental property in Richmond Heights that garnered media attention recently for violations of city and county laws during the demolition inside the building.

 

 

 

South of the Border

This residential property at 5844 Marquita Ave. in Dallas is the registered address for AKR Ventures STL LLC and RedRose Capital LLC. Incorporation records tie both companies to James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr. of St. Louis and Phillip A. Rose, son of retired BNSF Railroad exec Matthew K. Rose.

One degree of separation: A Texas financier, with a stake in a controversial Mexican gold mine, is hooked up with St. Louis real estate baron James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr.    

The Mexican government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF)  investigated a Dallas-based gold-mining company for alleged money laundering, according to a newspaper report in the Spanish language press published earlier this year. A director of that company is a business associate of St. Louis real estate investor James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr.

Redlingshafer, who resides in University City, is the organizer of St. Louis-based Artemis Holdings LLC with his father, James Ryan Redlingshafer Sr. That company received local media coverage last month for its violations of municipal and county laws related to demolition work on a Richmond Heights apartment building.

Though more far-flung, Redlingshafer Jr.’s other real estate ventures have garnered less attention, including the joint directorship and management of two Texas corporations with Phillip A. Rose of Westlake, Texas.

The range of Rose’s business activities is even wider. His diverse interests include sitting on the board of directors of DynaResource, the Dallas-based mining company, which controls a majority stake in the San Jose de Gracia gold mine in Mexico. He and his father, Matthew K. Rose, former CEO of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, own a controlling interest in the mining company through Golden Post Rail, a limited liability corporation.

Mauricio Flores, who writes the People Behind the Money column for La Razón de Mexico, discounts the possibility that the St. Louis real estate dealings are related to the subject of his reporting. He has, however, questioned why a reputable American financier would allow himself to become entangled in such a controversy. His May 5 column says DynaResource has been allegedly under investigation by the UIF since 2017 related to its gold-mining operations in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Journalist Mauricio Flores writes the People Behind the Money column for La Razon de Mexico.

Flores reported that the government probe stems from questions raised by a 2014 U.S. Security and Exchange Commission filing, which attracted the Mexican anti-corruption agency’s attention to gold ingots that DynaResource claimed were produced at the mine. That claim raised official eyebrows because the mine is not known to possess technology capable of processing raw ore into ingots, Flores reported. Other unidentified UIF records cited by Flores allege an unnamed mining company director’s assertion that the ingots were transferred to the mining company by an unidentified member of organized crime. Flores reported that Mexican authorities were  first alerted to the alleged money laundering in 2017 by Keith Piggot, the then-CEO of GoldGroup, a Canadian mining company. Over the last decade, DynaResource has been mired in litigation with GoldGroup, which holds a minority interest in the mine.

However sketchy this may seem, the allegations merit consideration because DynaResoure’s San Jose de Gracia gold mine is located in a region that is under the control of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel. The territory is essentially lawless, and thousands of its inhabitants have been displaced in recent years due to violence attributed to drug traffickers. Inexplicably, Sinaloa’s gold-mining operations have grown during the same time period, leading some informed sources to suspect that mine operators are paying protection money, or falling directly under the control of the cartels.

If this were not enough, DynaResource has encountered continuing labor and safety troubles at the mine. But these ongoing issues did not deter Golden Post Rail from investing $3.9 million in the company this year.

The Treasures of the Sierra Madre

Phillip A. Rose’s financial interests are not confined to The Treasures of the Sierra Madre, however.

North of the border, he and Redlingshafer Jr. are managers and directors of RedRose Capital LLC and AKR Ventures STL LLC — two Texas-based limited liability corporations engaged in acquiring real estate in Missouri. Redlingshafer Jr. is also the registered agent of the two companies. But the mailing address for both is listed as being hundreds of mile away from his suburban home in the St. Louis suburb of University City. According to Texas incorporation records, the registered address for the companies is  5844 Marquita Ave., a single-family residence in Dallas.

In this case, there is no proof of wrongdoing. It may even be argued that such unfettered capitalism is emblematic of good-old fashioned American (and Mexican) free enterprise. But but these transactions are also bereft of any transparency. In recent years, Byzantine networks of limited liability corporations have been the subject of investigations that have uncovered how such shell companies are used by the wealthy to secretly acquire real estate to hide assets and avoid taxes. These backroom transactions may be legal or illegal, but their purpose is the same. Since the publication of the Panama Papers in 2016 not much has changed.

Pending legislation before the lame duck session of Congress is seeking to shed some light on this dark place.

In an op-ed that appeared in The Hill this week, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), House sponsor of the Corporate Transparency Act, outlined the problem and what is at stake:

“… Corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) are formed at the state level in the U.S., and no U.S. state currently requires companies to disclose their true, beneficial owners. This means that the U.S. is the world capital of anonymous shell companies — and is a hub for not just money laundering but also terrorist financing. Yes, that’s right — the same terrorist groups that attack the U.S. are also using the U.S. financial system to move their money, and to finance their operations. It’s appalling, and it has to end. …”

Indifference

The new owners of an apartment building in Richmond Heights didn’t factor in the human costs of dislocating residents during the pandemic. After all, from a financial standpoint, it was none of their business.  

31-year-old James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr.’s University City home and the registered address of Artemis Holdings LLC.

At 1:15 a.m. Sunday Nov. 6, 2011, Officer Jeff McNutt of the Town and Country Police Department observed the driver of a 2011 Lexus veering from one lane to another on west bound Interstate 64 at Mason Road. After he pulled the vehicle over, he could smell alcohol on 22-year-old James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr.’s  breath and noted that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Redlingshafer Jr. denied he had been drinking, but based on a field sobriety test, McNutt arrested him for drunken driving.

Redlingshafer Jr. later failed a breathalyzer test at the police station. Redlingshafer Jr. refused to answer most questions posed to him by the arresting officer, including whether he was under the influence of narcotics. However, when asked to provide his occupation, he responded by saying that he worked in “finance.”  On his arrest report, McNutt described the young man’s attitude as “indifferent.”

Town and Country police described James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr.’s attitude as indifferent.

Since then, Redlingshafer Jr. has avoided further scrapes with the law, and is now partnered in a lucrative real estate business with his father. Nevertheless, the terse language contained in the nearly decade-old police report eerily presaged the future.

In July, when the Redlingshafer family real estate business — Artemis Holdings LLC — purchased a six-unit rental property in Richmond Heights, residents didn’t know they would be subjected to indifference. Nor did they have an inkling that demolition work was imminent. Initially, Artemis Holdings didn’t even bother to tell the Richmond Heights Zoning and Building Administrator of its plans. The company only applied for a building permit after a tenant informed the city that work had already commenced.

On September 30, Artemis Holdings began gutting the former apartment of an 85-year-old tenant, who had vacated the premises on short notice. Others would soon be forced to make hasty exits, too, including an 82-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis. Asbestos was subsequently discovered in the apartment building, but only after the hazardous material had been released into the environment during demolition, potentially exposing the remaining residents to toxic dust and particulate matter.

By late October, the rehabbed apartment was being advertised online for $1,395 a month, a 100 percent increase. A month later, four of the six tenants had moved. The bottom line: Tenants were displaced during the worst pandemic in history, and two of them are octogenarians with pre-existing health problems. Moreover, Richmond Heights and St. Louis County officials deemed such practices acceptable, accommodating the landlords at every turn at the expense of the tenants.

The lax enforcement of various laws in this case suggests systematic indifference on all fronts.

The Fourth Circle of Hell

Besides Artemis Holdings, Redlingshafer Jr. is connected to four other corporations, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office. Two of those companies have names that allude to Greek mythology. Artemis Holdings is named for the Greek god of hunting, whereas, Plutus Holdings LLC, refers to the Greek god of wealth. In Canto VII of Dante’s Inferno, Plutus is a demon of wealth who guards the Fourth Circle of Hell.

Though other corporations in Redlingshafer Jr.’s portfolio lack literary or mythological cachet, they are no less predicated on the pursuit of profit. Two of them — RedRose Capital LLC and AKR Ventures STL LLC. — are registered in the state of Texas and are tied to both Redlingshafer Jr. and Texas-based real estate investor Phillip A. Rose.

A classified real estate ad from the 1930s offering acreage in Country Life Acres.

Redlingshafer Jr. appears to have inherited his business acumen from his father, 61-year-old James Ryan Redlingshafer Sr. — co-owner of Artemis Holdings. The elder Redlingshafer lives nine miles west of Richmond Heights in Country Life Acres, a gated community.

Artemis Holdings co-owner James Ryan Redlingshafer lives behind these locked gates in Country Life Acres.

The village, which was incorporated in 1949, is comprised of 27 households with a population of 74. Its median annual family income is estimated at $200,000. Redlingshafer Sr. and his wife purchased the five-acre estate — #23 Country Life Acres — in 2016 for $3.8 million.

The inhabitants here don’t hold annual house tours, making it impossible to get a close glimpse of their environs. But from the vantage point of Clayton Road, the enclave emits the gentility of the plantations of the Old South, with their sweeping lawns and white-fenced pastures that resemble the bluegrass region of Kentucky or the horse farms of Northern Virginia.

Despite the bucolic setting, however, Country Life Acres is by no means paradise.

Three years before Redlingshafer Sr. moved here, a member of Country Life Acres’ landed gentry was brutally murdered. The victim, Ivan “Ike” Mullenix, a fellow real estate baron, had once been the largest apartment complex developer in the St. Louis area. His wife stabbed him in the heart during a domestic dispute in July 2013.

Aerial view of the sprawling home of James Redlingshafer Sr.

Though not as renowned as the tony St. Louis County suburb of Ladue, the tiny burg of Country Life Acres has long been home to prominent St. Louis businessmen and professionals. Redlingshafer Sr.’s residence was built in 1938. His mansion is located next to the former estate of the late Branch Rickey, the legendary St. Louis Cardinals baseball club executive. Rickey bought his palatial digs and the surrounding 23 acres for $100,000 in 1930. 

After leaving St. Louis, Rickey made baseball history by signing Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, ending racial segregation in the Major Leagues. But the color barrier remains largely intact in Country Life Acres today, where nearly 94 percent of the residents are white. Related Article: There Goes the Neighborhood

There Goes the Neighborhood

Residents of this apartment building in Richmond Heights were threatened with eviction during the pandemic after reporting the property owner’s illegal activities, which had caused them to be potentially exposed to asbestos during the renovation of the building.

When a new landlord purchased an apartment building in Richmond Heights this summer, none of its tenants knew their lives would be upended. Nor could they anticipate municipal and county officials would turn a blind eye to threats posed to their health and safety. 

Passersby often take the art-deco gem for granted as they walk their dogs or wheel baby carriages down the sidewalk. That’s because the brick apartment building blends seamlessly into the fabric of the neighborhood. It has, after all, been here a long time.

The landmark has anchored the corner of Wise And Moorelands Avenues in Richmond Heights since 1938. Its ocre-colored facade and opaque windows project the elegance of a grande dame, adding a sense of timelessness to the leafy intersection. From the outside, nothing appears amiss. The exterior of the two-story, L-shaped building remains largely the same as when it was built during the Great Depression.

Scene of the crime.

But this semblance of normalcy belies the upheaval that has recently beset those who lived here.

Laws have been violated on these premises. Health regulations flouted. Permits and inspections skirted. The police have been called to the address. Local, state and federal officials have been informed. But nothing yet has been done to clamp down on the lawbreakers. They continue to operate with impunity.

This would be bad enough, but the violations are occurring in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.

The troubles began this summer, when building owner John Carnasiotis sold the property to James R. Redlingshafer Sr. and James R. Redlingshafer Jr. — owners of Artemis Holdings LLC., — for an estimated $600,000. After the purchase, Artemis then handed over the management of their acquisition to Land and Apartments LLC, a firm operated by Connor O’Leary, who has an office at 1051 S. Big Bend Blvd in Richmond Heights. According to Missouri Secretary of State’s Office records, Land and Apartments registered to do business in the state on October 9, 2020 — after it had already started managing the property.

This may seem like a relatively minor issue, but there are other regulatory anomalies.

The litany of infractions stem from the recent demolition of one of the six apartments, which is part of an overall plan to rehab the entire building, oust the current residents and double the  monthly rents to $1,400.

With no advanced notice, the new owner hired a contractor to gut apartment 1E on Sept. 30 — without first securing the required building permit from the city of Richmond Heights. This allowed the rehabbers to also sidestep a mandatory asbestos inspection. Asbestos, which has long been outlawed, was commonly used in the past as a fire retardant in building materials. The hazardous material causes respiratory diseases and is a well-known human carcinogen that is strictly regulated under federal environmental law.

But those nettlesome details didn’t stop Artemis Holdings from forging ahead.

For three days, the work continued uninterrupted until a tenant called Richmond Heights City Hall and discovered the owner had not applied for the building permit. During this time, residents observed that no safety or mitigation procedures were being followed by Flex Construction, the contractor. Moreover, none of the construction crew wore N-95 masks or other protective equipment. Dust and debris were dispersed throughout the building. Truckloads of debris were removed. After a complaint was filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Diego Utrera, the construction owner, told the OSHA official that the remodeling work was limited to “cosmetic maintenance.”

Debris being removed at 7701 Wise Ave. on Oct. 1.

Richmond Heights issued a stop work order on the construction project Oct. 2. But the next day the contractor showed up at the site to continue the demolition inside the occupied building. This prompted one of the residents to call the police, as she had been instructed to do by the city of Richmond Heights.

After law enforcement officers arrived, the immigrant workers refused to leave the building for approximately 45 minutes. The impasse ended when the building manager arrived at the scene and negotiated with the police. The workers left without further incident.

Two days later, two tenants were issued eviction notices by the manager in apparent retaliation. Both tenants had paid their rent, however, and the notices to vacate were against state law. The eviction notices also violated a St. Louis County order that prohibits evictions during the pandemic.

On Oct. 5, Alison Carrick, a longtime resident of the building, appealed to the Richmond Heights City Council to intervene to protect the health and safety of the occupants. After she spoke to the council meeting via Zoom, Richmond Heights Mayor Jim Thomson vowed to look into the situation and advised building residents to contact Building Commissioner James Benedick about their concerns.

James Benedict described the full demolition of the apartment as “a little painting.”

Benedick, however, dismissed the tenants concerns, mischaracterizing the demolition project and the spewing of potentially toxic materials, as “a little painting.”

A week later, construction work resumed after the city belatedly issued a building permit. As required by law, an asbestos inspection was also conducted by a private environmental firm. The questionable activities associated with the project did not abate, however. Instead, the obfuscation escalated because both the building permit and asbestos inspection contained false information.

In comments presented to the St. Louis County Council on Oct. 13, Carrick pointed out multiple discrepancies contained in the building permit. The contractor, for instance, was listed as “unknown.” The permit also contained a fake phone number (314-123-4567). Moreover, the permit misidentified the owner of Artemis Holdings as being the building manager. The misinformation in the permit described the renovation as being limited to the “remodeling of the kitchen and bath,” and pegged the estimated total cost at $500. In reality, the entire interior of the apartment had been gutted.

When Benedick was notified of the underestimate, the amount listed on the permit was increased by ten times to $5,000, but that amount is still less than what such a project actually costs, according to a retired building inspector consulted for this story. When later confronted about this discrepancy, Benedick admitted that low-balling the estimated cost could result in reduced revenue from municipal building permit fees and county property taxes.

In short, the project appears to have possibly received a de facto subsidy from the Richmond Heights and St. Louis County.

Richmond Heights Building and Zoning Administrator James Benedick

After the owner was cited for not getting the requisite asbestos testing done, Artemis Holdings was compelled to hire Wellington Environmental Consulting and Construction Inc. to perform the asbestos inspection. On Oct. 7, Patrick Harper, a Wellington executive, conducted a “walk through” inspection of the apartment. Harper signed off on the inspection, claiming no asbestos was present, and submitted his findings to the St. Louis County Health Department. But there was more than one hitch to his stamp of approval. To begin with, Harper is not a licensed asbestos inspector. On top of that, he also failed to send any samples to a qualified laboratory for testing.

Harper’s cursory inspection failed to meet the sniff test of air pollution control specialist Ari Yarovinski of the St. Louis County Health Department, who rejected the inspection because Harper lacked the required Missouri Department of Natural Resources license to conduct asbestos inspections. His expertise lies elsewhere. Harper is identified as the clean-up company’s executive in charge of “corporate growth” at Wellington Environmental’s website.

After Yarovinski rejected the first asbestos inspection, Artemis Holdings had Wellington re-inspect the property. This time the environmental clean-up firm managed to assign a licensed inspector to conduct the inspection. By then, however, the the asbestos-contaminated kitchen floor tiles had already been removed and dumped by the contractor. Old floor tiles are generally acknowledged within the real estate industry and construction trade as the building materials most commonly contaminated with asbestos. Instead of testing floor tiles, the second inspector took samples from the kitchen walls. Those samples did not contain asbestos.

At her own expense, Carrick then took samples of the same floor tiles used throughout the apartment building to the St. Louis County Health Department laboratory in Berkley, Mo. for testing.

The St. Louis County Environmental Laboratory discovered asbestos in the samples of the floor tiles in the building.

The test results — conducted by the county’s own lab — showed the presence of asbestos.

Despite this evidence, Richmond Heights allowed Artemis Holdings to continue its rehab project with tenants living in the building. The noise, dirt and fumes from the subsequent demolition and construction work caused an 82-year-old resident, who has multiple sclerosis, to seek medical attention for heart palpitations. Other tenants, who were working at home due to the pandemic, found it next to impossible to do their jobs.

Related Article: Indifference: The new owners of an apartment building in Richmond Heights didn’t factor in the human costs of dislocating residents during the pandemic.

Whose Side Are You On?


The history of the Progressive Miners Union in Illinois during the Great Depression reveals collusion by the FBI, Peabody Coal and the UMW to bring down the radical union. 

by C.D. Stelzer

first published in Illinois Times, June 20, 2007.

Bill Warner never knew how close he came to dying. After clocking out at the Mount Olive, Ill., waterworks around midnight, he decided to walk home by way of the Union Miners Cemetery. Entering the graveyard, he ambled past the tombstones, pausing to gaze from afar at the silhouette of a shrouded monument. He then strode to within a couple of feet of the cloaked obelisk and again stopped in his tracks. Warner had no idea that every move he made was being watched by eight men, each aiming a shotgun in his direction, finger on the trigger.

Nor would the former coal miner ever learn that his near-death experience would become part of the region’s storied labor history. Decades later, after Warner had died of natural causes, Joseph Ozanic Sr. recounted the incident from the perspective of one of the gunmen lurking in the shadows. Unbeknownst to Warner on that long-ago night in the autumn of 1936, he had walked into a trap set by members of Local 728 of the Progressive Miners of America, the owner of the cemetery.

Mary Harris Jones, aka, Mother Jones.

“The good Lord must have been with him,” recalled Ozanic, former PMA state president. “Had his curiosity got the best of him to the extent that he might have tried to raise the veil up to see that marble, eight shotguns would have hit him from eight directions.”

Warner had likely made his nocturnal pilgrimage to pay an advance tribute to the woman for whom the monument would be publicly dedicated less than a week later. On Oct. 11, 1936, an estimated 50,000 people jammed the cemetery to honor legendary labor organizer Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones. Ozanic and his comrades had staked out the cemetery for several nights before the ceremony because they had heard rumors that the rival United Mine Workers union, under the autocratic rule of John L. Lewis, planned to blow up the monument.

Their vigilance was warranted.

Bombings, shootings, and other violence were common during the labor strife of the 1930s, when the two unions battled for supremacy in the central-Illinois coalfields. The tale of graveyard guard duty is buried among thousands of pages of transcribed interviews conducted by the Office of Oral History at Sangamon State University (which has since become the University of Illinois at Springfield) in the 1970s and 1980s, now available online. The recollections of the miners and their family members provide an invaluable historical context for understanding the struggles they endured.
 This weekend the town of Mount Olive will hold its third annual Mother Jones Festival to honor the area’s labor heritage. The festivities will include a homecoming parade, carnival rides, and an arts-and-crafts show. A memorial service at the Mother Jones monument is also scheduled. Those who attend may also pay their respects to Ozanic, who died in 1978 and is buried nearby.

As evidenced by his anecdote, the Mother Jones monument not only symbolizes labor’s struggles but actually became a part of them. Before her death in 1930, at the age of 100, Jones — an avowed foe of Lewis — had requested that her remains be buried in the Union Miners Cemetery with the martyrs of the Virden massacre, who died in 1898 during an earlier strike against Illinois coal operators. When the PMA decided to rebury Jones’ body in front of the monument, the UMW sued to stop the exhumation of her unmarked grave.

UMW President John L. Lewis

Six years after she died, Mother Jones still commanded the attention and respect of organized labor. Lewis — fearing the labor matriarch’s iconic influence — had UMW attorneys file a restraining order that painted the PMA members more or less as ghouls. “He sought to make it appear that we were going to unearth graves and scatter bones of the dead in our cemetery,” recalled Ozanic. “Of course, we countered in court and proved that he was a damn liar. . . . And then we proceeded. We raised the funds and everything was set up, and oh, Jesus, what a deal it was! It really shook him and rocked old John L. and his corrupt outfit like nothing else.”

The PMA and its women’s auxiliary had somehow managed to raise more than $16,000 in the middle of the Great Depression to build the 20-foot-tall granite shaft, which bears a bas-relief of Jones and is flanked by bronze statutes of two coal miners. The outlay represented a lofty sum for the cash-strapped union, most of whose members had been on strike since the PMA had organized itself, in 1932, to oppose Lewis’ despotic control over the UMW. Through the monument, the PMA and its supporters had won a major publicity coup by attaching their democratic labor movement to the memory of Mother Jones.

But the victory was short lived.

Within two months of the monument’s unveiling, a federal grand jury in Springfield charged 41 PMA members with conspiracy to disrupt interstate commerce and impede mail delivery in connection with 23 bombings and six attempted bombings of railroad property between December 1932 and August 1935. The trial, which took place a year later, lasted more than a month and featured 388 witnesses. With each passing day’s testimony, tensions welled higher. The judge, at one point, threatened to clear the courtroom because of outbursts by PMA supporters.

The Progressive Miners of America were targeted by the FBI, UMW and Peabody Coal.

In another instance, a defense attorney tussled with a Springfield police detective in the third-floor corridor of the courthouse. The courtroom drama garnered front-page headlines in both of Springfield’s daily newspapers for weeks. Lengthy accounts detailed legal strategies, summarized testimonies, and noted the many prosecutorial objections sustained by the bench.

Outside the courtroom, however, larger forces played a critical role in the fate of the defendants. Lewis began his career in the Illinois coalfields, but by the 1930s he was vying for national power. With the UMW as his base, he bolted from the American Federation of Labor to head the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which was then organizing millions of American factory workers. To secure future influence in labor matters, the UMW also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The UMW’s generosity may partly explain the Roosevelt administration’s interest in the case. After a year-long FBI investigation, the Justice Department dispatched U.S. Assistant Attorney General Welly K. Hopkins to Springfield. He used the newly enacted federal anti-racketeering law for the first time to try the case.

Ultimately three defendants received early acquittals from the judge. The court released another individual for lack of evidence and excused yet another because of poor health. Despite the vast amount of evidence and the overall complexity of the case, the jury deliberated for just over three hours before delivering the verdict on the remaining 36 defendants.

All were found guilty as charged and sentenced to federal prison. The guilty verdicts, delivered in December 1937, presaged the gradual decline of the PMA. A few years later, Roosevelt pardoned all of the convicted miners, but not before they had served their prison sentences.

By then the PMA had suffered more setbacks in its efforts to negotiate contracts with coal operators in Illinois and elsewhere. In each case, federal labor rulings always favored the UMW over the PMA. With its membership rolls dwindling, the upstart union no longer could challenge Lewis’ omnipotence.

On its face, justice appeared to have been served.

The violence alleged to have been perpetrated by the PMA had been punished by the rule of law. A photograph in the Illinois State Journal, which appeared the day after the verdict, shows the prosecution team smiling, as they read all about their victory in an extra edition of the same newspaper. In the photo, lead prosecutor Hopkins is resting his arm on the shoulder of George A. Stevens, the FBI agent who investigated the case.

To Springfield labor historian Carl Oblinger, the outcome of the trial was as staged as the photograph. “It was a charade,” he says. “There was nothing connecting the PMA guys to conspiracy.” On the contrary, Oblinger says, a conspiracy was perpetrated against the PMA. The historian bases his opinion on FBI memos sent to the attorney general prior to the grand-jury investigation in the fall of 1936. He discovered the documents recently while conducting research at the National Archives, in College Park, Md.

Oblinger, who headed the oral-history project at Sangamon State 20 years ago, is the author of the 1991 book Divided Kingdom: Work, Community, and the Mining Wars in the Central Illinois Coal Fields During the Great Depression, reissued by the Illinois Historical Society three years ago. Since then Oblinger has continued to sift through historical records to better understand the events that culminated in the trial.

“The United Mine Workers, Peabody Coal, and the federal government — through the FBI — had this already taken care of before the trial began,” Oblinger says. “The most obvious collusion was allowing the UMW goons into the grand-jury room. . . . The witnesses were specifically picked by the UMW and brought to the grand-jury room for dramatic but not substantive value. They were actors.”

If the story of the Illinois mining wars ever hit the big screen, the opening scenes might take place in the Taylorville law office of Reese & Reese, where Daniel G. Reese, the firm’s senior partner, shares cramped quarters with son Lindsey.

One afternoon last month, the 79-year-old former mayor of the town sat behind his cluttered desk and reminisced about one of his earliest childhood memories: the repeated bombing of his parents’ home in 1933.

“Oh yeah, I remember all of it,” Reese says. “I was about 5 years old. In fact, I was in the house when they bombed it both times. They bombed the garage and blew up the car. They also bombed the front porch. . . . ” Reese recalls talking to the National Guardsmen who patrolled around his house after the explosions occurred. He also remembers seeing the roadblocks set up by the state militia on the edge of town. He recalls listening to radio broadcasts that reported shootings on the streets of Taylorville related to the labor conflict. Reese remembers the taunts of schoolmates, too.

More than 70 years later, the elderly attorney still isn’t sure whom to blame for the bombings that rocked his childhood residence at 120 N. Madison St., but he is quite clear about who wasn’t responsible.

“Obviously they didn’t represent the Progressive Mine workers,” he says. It’s a reasonable deduction. His father, Leal Reese, also an attorney, represented the PMA in 1933.

Reese downplays the bombings, saying that he believes that they were only meant to send his father a message, not to kill or maim. He tends to blame the violence of the era more on human nature than on anything else. In hindsight, Reese says, the idea of two labor unions’ fighting each other makes no more sense than religious warfare. Besides, it all happened so long ago. The rancor of those bygone days has vanished and been forgotten, Reese says. Those who were involved are all dead. It is as if time has served as an anodyne. And then a name pops into the conservation that jars his memory.

“That’s it — Argust! Everybody has always told me that if it hadn’t had been for Argust we wouldn’t have had this darn fight,” Reese says. “Everybody says he was at fault.” He is referring to the late Ward C. Argust, Peabody Coal’s division superintendent in Taylorville. From 1922 to 1937, Argust oversaw the coal company’s Midland tract, which included four mines in Christian County. The mine superintendent also took part in the contentious contract negotiations with the UMW in 1932. Illinois miners went on strike April 1 of that year over wage and manpower issues. The union wanted a reduction in weekly work hours to stave off job losses resulting from mechanization. The coal operators rejected that proposal and additionally sought to slash wages from $6.10 to $5 a day, though the miners had accepted a substantial wage cut two years earlier.

With the bargaining at an impasse, UMW District 12 leadership reluctantly requested that Lewis intercede. Asking for his help was an extraordinary concession in itself because union miners in Illinois had long valued their autonomy and resented the international president’s heavy-handedness. In July, Lewis pushed for acceptance of the coal operators’ latest proposal, which varied little from the original offer. Illinois miners again turned down the contract.

Lewis immediately called for another vote on what was essentially the same package in early August — but before the ballots could be tallied they were stolen off the street in Springfield. Lewis then declared an emergency and signed the contested contract without the consent of the rank and file.

All hell broke loose.

Union miners rebelled. Mass demonstrations erupted in mining towns throughout central and southern Illinois. In late August, thousands of unarmed miners set out from Gillespie to rally support in Southern Illinois. Their caravan was ambushed near Mulkeytown, in Franklin County. Several miners were wounded by sniper fire.

Rather than quell the dissent, the surprise attack spurred further militancy. On Sept. 1, 1932, 272 delegates — representing more than 30,000 miners in the state — convened at the Colonial Theater in Gillespie and voted to break with the UMW and form the Progressive Miners of America.

In Taylorville, Argust watched the unrest escalate, and 12,000 striking miners converged on the city on Aug. 18. To his chagrin, the mass picketing temporarily shut down production in Peabody’s profitable Midland tract, including Mine No. 58.

In his later testimony, Argust identified several of the defendants in the PMA bombing trial as leaders of the protest that continued for days: “They blocked all the roads. I saw the mob that marched in. I saw the picket lines. I saw men in the park, on the public square in Kincaid, and along the highways and roads leading to the mine properties. On many occasions, men were around my house yelling.” Argust’s hired thugs would soon strike back with more than words.

Today the land above the abandoned Mine No. 58, on the outskirts of Taylorville, is the site of Midwest Recycling, a scrap yard that harbors everything from an airplane fuselage to mangled bicycle frames and trashed computer monitors. The tipple is long gone, the mine shaft covered over. Vestiges of the old railroad tracks are barely visible in a path now traveled by salvagers driving pickup trucks and tractors. A junkyard dog eyes visitors warily as they walk by a couple of old brick buildings that were part of the original mining operation.

Inside one of the structures is a tag board that hundreds of coal miners once used to keep track of who was working underground. The boards doubled as places for miners to keep their pistols during working hours. The sidearms that coal miners toted around for self-protection back in those days, however, were peashooters compared to the arsenal that Argust kept in the supervisors’ washhouse at Mine No. 58.

Vernon Vickery worked at the washhouse from November 1932 until April 1935, according to testimony he gave on behalf of the defense in the bombing trial. Under questioning by chief defense counsel A.M. Fitzgerald, Vickery explained that he took orders directly from Argust.

“We used the washhouse to store dynamite, arms, ammunition, and machine guns,” Vickery told the court. The witness said that he and the mine superintendent had exclusive access to the weapons cache and that he was instructed by Argust to distribute the dynamite “only to those that I knew as okay, which consisted of his regular bomb squad.”

Like Vickery, the “bomb squad” members were ex-convicts who had in many cases gained early release from prison through the intervention of Peabody officials. Vickery further testified that Peabody employed out-of-state strikebreakers, paid informants to spy on PMA activities, and bankrolled armed goons, including himself, to beat up striking miners.

Vickery also said that Argust took over the Christian County Sheriff’s Department, hiring and deputizing between 100 to 150 men, who were paid for their services by Peabody Coal. Vickery claimed that Argust ordered the bomb squad to target private residences, a Baptist church, and Tango Joe’s, a Taylorville saloon frequented by strikers.

He cited other instances in which the bomb squad intentionally destroyed company property to give the appearance that the acts of violence were carried out by the PMA. He indicated, for example, that the bombings of the Daily Breeze newspaper office and UMW office in Taylorville on Sept. 18, 1932, were carried out under Argust’s direction to force the Illinois governor to call out the National Guard to help break the strike. Vickery identified the bomber of the newspaper and union headquarters as Merle Cottom.

In prior testimony, Argust had denied many of these same accusations — but he did admit under oath to employing as many as eight “undercover men,” including Cottom.

Two of Argust’s paid informants ended up defendants in the bombing trial. One of them, John “Jack” Stanley, the president of the PMA’s Taylorville local, had his own house bombed twice. Vickery testified that on July 23, 1933, he distributed dynamite to four members of the bomb squad. One bomb exploded later that night at Peabody Mine No. 7, near Kincaid, he said. Another explosion, on the same night, damaged the Stanley residence in Taylorville.

Stanley’s bodyguard sustained gunshot wounds in the attack. Stanley and his bodyguard sued Peabody Coal and two of the bomb-squad thugs. Stanley testified that he and his bodyguard received out-of-court settlements from the company after discussions with Argust.

The defense established that the Christian County state’s attorney and his law partner, who represented Peabody, negotiated the settlement. Outstanding criminal charges against the alleged bombers were then reduced to misdemeanors, and one of the men was later issued a UMW union card and given a job at a Peabody mine in the area.

To refute Vickery’s testimony, the prosecution called on his parents, who described their son as delusional and untrustworthy. Nonetheless, the prosecution never charged him with perjury.

As for Argust, he fell ill shortly after appearing as a prosecution witness, which prevented the defense from recalling him. He died in a Chicago hospital on the last day of the trial.

In the final weeks of the trial, one defendant after another took the stand and denied the charges.

One of the accused, Edris Mabie, couldn’t speak for himself because he had been shot and killed in front of the PMA union hall in downtown Springfield on Easter Sunday 1935. Springfield police arrested UMW district president Ray Edmundson and Fred Thomasson, a former member of Charlie Birger’s gang, for the murder — but the case was dropped for unknown reasons.

Throughout the trial, Fitzgerald, the chief defense attorney, charged that his clients were the victims of a frame-up. In his closing arguments, he questioned at length the relationship among Stevens, the FBI’s lead investigator, and members of the UMW in putting together the case that led to the indictments. The questions he raised are the same as those asked now by Oblinger, the labor historian.

“If you put all of this together, including court transcriptions and the depositions, the FBI reports . . . the archive materials that are connected to this stuff — this [becomes] a larger conspiracy,” Oblinger says. “It’s not a conspiracy, really, of backroom secret deals. This is pretty public stuff. A lot of people knew this. They’re all dead now.”

One of those people, says Oblinger, was his father, Walter L. Oblinger, who served as an FBI agent in Springfield in the 1940s. Shortly before he died, the former G-man made a confession to his son. The labor historian says his father told him this:

“There was collusion in this case, beginning in 1933, between the owners, John L. [Lewis] and the federal government. The mine owners and the UMW were fighting an economic battle with the PMA in Illinois to determine who would control the pace of mechanization, the means of production, and representation of the miners. That’s where we [the FBI] came in. In 1935, ’36, and ’37, we sabotaged the PMA with UMW money and muscle, a fixed jury, and a trial based on perjured testimony, stool pigeons, and intimidation. They [the PMA] didn’t have a chance. . . . ”

On two flanks of the Mother Jones monument in Mount Olive are bronze plaques listing the names of 21 PMA members who died during the mining wars. PMA attorney Fitzgerald asked that those names be read into the court record on the first day of defense testimony.

Among the martyrs was Fred D. Gramlich, who was shot with a high-powered rifle through the window of his Springfield tavern on the night of May 27, 1936. His son Arthur “Art” Gramlich, who was wounded a year earlier in the Easter Sunday shooting, was named lead defendant in the bombing trial.

Art Gramlich (courtesy of the Sangamon County Historical Society.

Acy)

In 1972, the younger Gramlich, by then 68 years old, agreed to be interviewed as a part of the oral-history project at Sangamon State. The interview took place at his daughter’s dining-room table. Kitchen clatter can be heard in the background. Gramlich displayed tattoos on both arms and on the knuckles of his gnarled hands. He had only partial use of his left forearm as a result of a gunshot wound he sustained decades earlier.

According to the handwritten notes of the interviewer, Gramlich wanted immediate assurance from him that he wasn’t an FBI agent. After being convinced, Gramlich chained-smoked for nearly two hours as he recounted his life. Toward the end of the interview, Gramlich said that in late 1936 — only months after his father’s violent death — an FBI agent offered him a $10,000 bribe to implicate his fellow PMA members in the bombing campaign.

“I couldn’t have hated him any worse right then,” said Gramlich. “I said, ‘You goddamn son of a bitch, why don’t you go look and try to find who blowed my old man’s heart out? He’s dead, but your goddamn stinking railroads and your mail ain’t dead. I don’t know nothing about it and you ain’t going to find anything about it.”

According to Gramlich, the agent replied:  “‘Well, just the same, we’ll have your ass before it’s over.’ ”