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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.  

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 denied he had been drinking, but based on a field sobriety test, McNutt arrested him for drunken driving. Redlingshafer later failed a breathalyzer test at the police station.

7107 Westmoreland Drive: The University City home of 31-year-old real estate investor James Ryan Redlingshafer Jr., and the registered address of Artemis Holdings LLC.

Redlingshafer 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’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 #23 Country Life Acres, 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, a firm operated by Connor O’Leary, who has an office at 1051 S. Big Bend Blvd in Richmond Heights.  But according to Missouri Secretary of State’s Office records, Land and Apartments is not registered to do business in the state.

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 of 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 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 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.

Next: Landlords in the time of the plague.

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.’ ”

Timothy Leary’s Dead.

Left: Timothy Leary in the custody of Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs agents in 1972. Right: Leary’s 1970 California mugshot. (photos courtesy of the Berkeley Historical Society.)

A 1992 interview with the LSD guru, first published in the Riverfront Times.

by C.D. Stelzer

After your dismissal from Harvard in 1963, both a local television station and Washington University here in St. Louis canceled programs that were to have featured you and colleague Richard Alpert. Which do you believe the establishment feared more at that time, your actual experimentation with LSD or the ideas you espoused?

Timothy Leary: The basic theme I’ve ever done in public is to encourage and empower individuals — think for yourself and question authority. I’m a dissident philosopher based on the Socratic method. My trade union has been practicing this dangerous and risky profession for several thousand years. We have to have every establishment angry. If I’m not in trouble with the establishment, then I’m in trouble with my union card as a socratic philosopher.

It’s not the drugs they were concerned about. It’s much more subversive telling people `just say know — K-N-O-W — just think for yourself.’

When you think that the establishment was angry and upset back then about gentle little vegetables like marijuana and LSD and mushrooms, look what they’ve got now — tons of cocaine on every street corner and every city in the United States.

It was not just the drugs. Deeper than that, it was our defense of humanism as opposed to religion and government. Individualism, dissidents, we were against the war. Stand up for yourself that was the message, it’s always been controversial with Big Brother.

In 1969, you stated that drug dealing was “the noblest of all human professions.” With that in mind, and in light of government and corporate opposition over the last decade, what is your attitude toward drug use today?

That was pulled out of context. What I was saying was throughout history, the chalice, which holds the sacraments, which illuminate and enlighten and allow people to face their own inner divinity. Dealing dope should be the most sacred, precious and conscientious profession. … In that particular interview I was denouncing the drug dealers that were doing it for profit or that were dealing drugs in a dishonest way.

What do you believe is the greatest achievement of the psychedelic revolution that you pioneered? Do you have any reservations about your involvement in disseminating LSD to the American culture?

Put it into historical context. The use of sacramental vegetables has gone back, back, back in history to shamans and the Hindu religion and Buddhist religion. They were using Soma. It’s an ancient human ritual that has usually been practiced in the context of religion or of worship or of tribal coming together.

I didn’t pioneer anything. The use of psychedelics for spiritual purposes was started in the 50s by Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

What we did in the 60s, we just surfed a wave. In the 1960s, there was this sudden, new, enormous generation of young Americans brought up on television. Their parents had been told by Dr. Spock, `treat your children as individuals and let them become themselves.’ When they hit college, here was this new movement.

The pioneering, the real work in spreading the word about psychedelic vegetables, (was done by) the rock n’ rollers. Electronic amplification messages going around the world at the speed of light. Bob Dylan and John Lennon and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. They spread the word around.

I’m not a leader, I’m a cheerleader, urging people to be careful and think for yourself.

You’ve met or tripped with Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and Jack Keroac among others. Who was the highest individual you have ever encountered?

I’m not talking about that, you can’t count …

You can’t put it on a scale.

Y
eah, everyone of those people are a human being and they had their flaws. They were dedicated humanists that’s the key thing. Divinity is found not in the churches or the palaces of the powerful, divinity is found inside. That’s the oldest message, and we all agreed on that, and we expressed it and sang it and chanted it in many different dialects.

Do you still experiment with drugs now?

I don’t experiment. Yes, I use any vegetable or chemical that I feel is necessary at the time to further my life plan. Anytime I want to turn on my right brain, I use chemicals to do that. But I do it carefully, I do it cautiously. I know what I’m doing.

I’ve have been told that your appearance in St. Louis will include a hyper-video display. Could you describe what hyper-video is and how it differs from past multi-media productions?

I don’t know what you mean by past. Yes, it’s true that in the 60s we went down to Broadway and put on what we called the `Psychedelic Salvation.’ We had 19 or 20 slide projectors, overloaded sound — to produce a trance state, to produce a right brain experience, where you’re open and vulnerable to learning new stuff.

Now we have a computer-generated stuff, an enormous empowerment of individuals, who have access now to computer programs CD-Rom programs and special effects. I can’t do a real immersive trance state because its a bright room. But I will have videos to show how it works, and I’m going to try to get the lights to go on and off a little bit so we get some little flavor, to get a group of people who are sharing the same visionary or trance situation.

How is the youth movement of today different from the 1960s?

A lot has happened since the 1960s. In 1980, the American government was taken over by a military police-state or coup. In the last 12 years, you’ve seen an erosion of personal rights, personal freedom, and more power to the police and the military. … The main thing that the Reagan-Bush administration does is they send guns all around the world and they ship out all of our jobs.

So the kids that have grown up today have grown up in a very different world than the 60s, when there was a tremendous feeling of innocence. … And the different races were encouraged to express themselves, and women’s liberation. It was a glorious moment of renaissance, but it was cracked, which often does happen, in 1980.

So the kids today, to answer your question, have to deal with a much more grim economic situation, a grim lifestyle situation. Young women of today are afraid today that they could be arrested if they control their own reproductive rights. The abortion police, these right-wing Republicans, sticking their noses into women’s reproductive organs. Urinating in a bottle.

Kids growing up today are harassed and their is a sense of violence and conflict. So therefore, kids today are much tougher.

There is a youth movement developing now somewhat connected to raves, where young people get together to have celebratory dances. It’s different, and I have a great deal of sympathy and admiration for young people growing up today.

In a recent interview, you said one of the greatest pranks you enjoyed was escaping from prison in 1970. You were convicted of marijuana possession, but why were you really in jail? Was your imprisonment analogous to society at large; are we all prisoners and guards in one big prison yard as Dylan says?

Well, that’s a very philosophic statement. You’re only in prison, if your mind tells you are. When I was in prison, behind bars, I was freer than most people who came to visit me.

Richard Nixon called me `the most dangerous man alive.’ That’s not because I was found in a car where someone else had five dollars worth of marijuana. (It’s) probably because I was the most eloquent and most influential voice encouraging young people to think for yourself and question authority, and don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters.

It was my ideas that were very dangerous. I found myself in 1970 facing between 20 and 30 years imprisonment for less than $10 of marijuana (found) in cars that were not my own.

I did four-and-a-half years in prison for less than $10 worth of marijuana at the same time cocaine gangsters from Peru were doing four or five years for a ton of cocaine. Everyone I think would agree that I was in prison for my ideas, and that’s why I escaped from there.

Are computer hackers of the 1990s akin to the 60s outlaw drug dealers?

The thing about the computer situation is it changes so quickly. The concept of hacker — the programmer who spends all night eating bad food and drinking Pepsi-Cola and getting pimples and cracking codes — that’s kind of over now. They were wonderful heroes.
There is a strong growing counterculture in the computer culture, people who don’t think that computers and electronic devices should be used just for Big Brother, the CIA and American Airlines, but to use these wonderful electronic powers to enrich yourself as an individual and to help you communicate.

The hot thing that is going on in electronic computer culture today is networking, communicating with one another on electronic bulletin boards. That’s where the notion `cyberpunk’ came as invented by William Gibson in the book Nueromancer.

The cyberpunk is someone who is very skillful and understands how to use technology, and can mix film, and edit their own audio-visual stuff, do your own MTV at home on your Macintosh, or do it in school on your McIntosh. Cyberpunks are these individuals who use this intelligence not to make a lot of money for a big corporation, but to enrich human life and enrich human communication.

Instead of just talking on bulletin boards or typing in letters, within two or three years, we’ll be sending incredible multi-media graphics. So instead of just talking, within two or three years, I’ll be able to send you an MTV-type audio-visual stuff with some words.

Almost 20 years ago you foresaw that “language thought and custom were becoming electrically energized” through technology. At the time, you predicted “science … cannot be controlled by a national leader or restrained by national boundaries. You stated that: “Those born into the electronic culture will soon learn how to govern themselves according to the laws of energy. Do you believe this to be the case today? If so, how has it manifested itself in the world of 1992?

I think you can learn a lot about America by seeing what happened in the Soviet Union. The Republicans are saying Reagan had the Soviet Union in his gun sights and it was Bush who pulled the trigger to kill communism. Now that’s a truck load of you know what.

The Soviet Union collapsed because million and millions of citizens, particularly young people, particularly college people and scientists, intellectuals — and there were many of them there totally silent during Brezhnev — began communicating electronically.

In East Berlin, for example, they had guards that would go around and make sure that satellite disks at apartment houses in communist Germany were not turned to the west. And you would get busted, if were picking up electronic signals from the West.

But you can’t stop electrons. Electrons are not like tanks. You can’t build a wall of bricks to keep out videotapes and MTV tapes and rock n’ roll records.

After moving west to California in the late 60s, you became connected with a group called the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. In 1973, Nicholas Sand, a chemist for the Brotherhood, was arrested in St. Louis for operating two LSD laboratories. Indictments in California around the same time also named Ronald H. Stark, who allegedly operated a LSD lab in Belgium, In the book Acid Dreams, the authors name Stark as being a CIA informant. In retrospect do believe the CIA was involved in putting acid out on the street to preempt a possible political revolution?

I don’t know about that. But it’s a matter of fact that most of the LSD in America in the late 50s and early 60s was brought in by the CIA and given around to hospitals to find out these drugs could be used for brainwashing or for military purposes.

You talked about Nicholas Sand. The whole concept of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is like a bogeyman invented by the narcs. The brotherhood was about eight surfer kids from Southern California, Laguna Beach, who took the LSD, and they practiced the religion of the worship of nature, and they’d go into the mountains. But they were not bigshots at all. None of them ever drove anything better than a VW bus. They were just kind of in it for the spiritual thrill.

Nick Sand was a very skillful chemist. He may have made LSD that the Brotherhood used. He was just a very talented chemist, who was out to make a lot of money for himself.

The guy Stark. I was accused of heading this ring. I never met Stark. Never knew he existed. I heard he’s a European money launderer. But that was not relevant to what was going on out here.

What is relevant to your question is … yes, the CIA did distribute LSD. As a matter of fact, the DEA (the Drug Enforcement Agency) is out there right now setting up phony busts, setting up people, selling dope. And it’s well known that during the Reagan administration Ollie North was shipping up tons of cocaine to buy money to give to the Contras and the Iranians.

The CIA has always used drugs very cynically. They [control] opium poppy plantations in the golden triangle of Thailand and Burma because it helps the anti communist group there.

The CIA doesn’t care about drugs, they’re just interested in playing there game of power and control, and in the old days, anti-communist provocation.

Wasn’t the Human Ecology Fund, which financed LSD research at Harvard, also connected to the CIA?

Yeah, these are minor little details. The professor who led to Richard Albert and I getting fired from Harvard, it turned out later was getting money from the CIA.

When you ran for governor of California in 1970 against Ronald Reagan, how many votes did you receive?

I never ran, Reagan threw me in prison. They wouldn’t give me bail for $5 worth of marijuana. Murderers, rapists were walking out with $100,000 bail. They did that to keep me from registering to keep me from running for governor.

What do you think of the presidential campaign thus far this year?

I think it’s obvious the United Soviet States of America — the federal government in Washington — is finished. No one likes it, and its just like the Communist Party bureaucracy in Moscow. Now the strategy is learn from the Soviet Union. When Brezhnev was in charge, we were for Gorbachev. As soon as Gorbechev got in charge and tried to keep it going, we were for Yeltsin.

You always have got to vote for the person who is going to loosen up the central power. So obviously you’ve got to vote for Clinton and Gore because they’re going to loosen things up and bring [down] the incredible police state, totalitarian situation that Reagan and Bush got.

Yeah, I’m enthusiastically, passionately cheering for Gore and Clinton. (But) I really don’t think anybody should be the president of the United States. You’ve got to break the central government down just as they did in the Soviet Union. Go back to the original states. That’s the original American dream. We don;t want a federal monopolistic bureaucracy in Washington.

As a new millennium approaches, how do you perceive the future of post industrial America?

... I’m not really that interested in the politics, I’m interested in the psychology, the power of individuals to communicate with each other. So I have high hopes there will be a new breed in the 21st century.

There is a new breed popping up in Japan, popping up in London, popping up in Germany. These are a new generation of kids who don’t want to go back to the old Cold War. They’re not going to work on Mitsubishi and Toyotas farm no more.

They believe in individual freedom. They don’t want to work, work, work for the company. They enjoy above all a global international movement. We’re going to get what Marshall McCluhan predicted thirty-forty ago — a global village — which will be hooked up by electronic networks. … Globalization will be the big thing of the future.

Two Blind Mice

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters who nailed County Exec Steve Stenger turned a blind eye to the historic influence of organized crime that presaged their reportage.

St Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Jeremy Kohler and Jacob Barker’s extensive coverage of political corruption involving St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger helped send the politician to federal prison last year. But the two journalists failed to fully report the criminal background of Sorkis Webbe Jr., a crime figure who played a key role in the affair.

In 2014, Webbe introduced then-County Executive Stenger to John Rallo, who started his business career in his family’s construction company, which allegedly had ties to Chicago organized crime, according to FBI records.  Rallo, a co-defendant who was also found guilty in the Stenger case, benefited from contracts funneled through the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership then headed by Sheila Sweeney, an associate of Webbe. Sweeney received probation. Webbe, was not charged.

The money was siphoned from the $5 million in annual rent payments made to the St. Louis County Port Authority by the River City Casino, which is owned by Penn National, a Pennsylvania-based gaming corporation.

This was not Webbe’s first rodeo. The former city alderman had been convicted of voter fraud and obstruction of justice in 1985. His bust followed the conviction of his father for income tax evasion in Nevada in 1983. The IRS case against Sorkis Webbe Sr. related to his interests in the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, which was then controlled by the Detroit Mafia.

Documents released by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act in October 2020 show Webbe Jr. and his late father were embroiled in a power struggle with St. Louis Mafia leader Matthew Trupiano and the Detroit Mafia in 1982. The conflict developed because the Detroit mobsters and Trupiano were leaning on Webbe Sr. to cut them in on the skim from a casino in the Bahamas, according to the FBI. The Detroit Mafia believed that Webbe Sr. had ripped them off in the Aladdin casino deal in Las Vegas and wanted to be repaid through sharing in the ill-gotten gains from the Bahamanian gambling operation, according to the FBI.

Though the FBI records were released only last month, details of the rift between the Webbes and Trupiano had already been reported decades ago by the Post-Dispatch — but that background information was inexplicably omitted from the newspaper’s coverage of Webbe Jr.’s part in the Stenger affair.

July 10, 1985 dual byline by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Ronald J. Lawrence and William C. Lhotka

In the July 10 and July 11, 1985 editions of the Post-Dispatch, staff reporters  Ronald J. Lawrence and William C. Lhotka revealed the details of the Webbes’ conflict with Trupiano and his allies in Detroit.

The two stories reported that in the early 1980s, Webbe Jr. acted as an envoy for his father in negotiations with Trupiano, the St. Louis mafia leader, who was related to members of the Detroit Mafia through his uncle, the late Anthony “Tony G” Giordano, the prior boss of the St. Louis Mafia.  After Webbe Sr. and Trupiano failed to reach an agreement on sharing the estimated $100,000 per month skim from the Bahamian casino, the Webbes sought protection from St. Louis Syrian crime boss Paul J. Leisure.

July 11, 1985 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story by Ronald J. Lawrence.

The Leisure family was then in a gang war with loyalists of  the late Southside Syrian syndicate boss  Jimmy Michaels, who had been murdered in a car bombing on Interstate 55 in South St. Louis County by the Leisure gang in September 1980. The unrest in the St. Louis underworld had been spurred by the earlier, natural death of Giorando, who had forged a pact with both Michaels and East Side rackets boss Art Berne, who represented the interests of the Chicago outfit.

During this period, Paul J. Leisure reached out for support from the Kansas City Mafia then headed by the Civella crime family. The Civellas refused to intervene in the dispute with Trupiano, according to FBI sources cited by the Post-Dispatch in 1985. The Detroit Mafia also declined to declare war on the Leisures, thereby averting further violence

Paul J. Leisure lost his legs in a retaliatory car bombing carried out by the Michaels gang in August 1981. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1985 for the car-bombing death of Michaels and died at the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo. in 2000.

Pandering to Plutocracy

In the New Cold War, one of the casualties is independent journalism. 

Next month, PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff and former St. Louis Post-Dispatch foreign correspondent Jon Sawyer of the non-profit Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting are slotted to appear at the Gateway Journalism Review online fundraiser. They are being touted for their roles as defenders of the free  press. Unfortunately, there is reason to question that characterization.

That’s because both journalism icons are compromised by their ties to U.S. government national security interests, corporate cash and funding from non-government organizations. For journalists such as Woodruff and Sawyer, turning a blind eye to these influences is a matter of self interest.

According to the Pulitzer Center’s 2018 tax return, Sawyer’s annual salary is $214,000, along with $39,000 in additional benefits and expenses. Kem Sawyer, his wife, is also on the Pulitzer Center’s payroll. She received $80,000 for being a consultant.

Being a public television news anchor is even more lucrative.

 NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff.

Woodruff received a salary of more than $500,000 in 2017, and scored another $27,000 in other benefits. Her compensation package is tucked away in the 2018 non-profit tax return of the Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association of Arlington, Va., which is the corporation that runs WETA-TV, the PBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Woodruff works for a subsidiary of WETA — NewsHour Productions LLC, a corporation registered in Virginia. In 2017, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees this byzantine network, gave NewsHour Productions $4.4 million. But that’s a fraction of the news operation’s budget.

The bulk of the funding comes from a myriad of individuals and foundations some of whose names harken back to the industrial tycoons and robber barons of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Those names include Ford, Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller. New money is represented by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Other sources of NewsHour funding come from corporate sponsors such as BNSF Railroad and Johnson & Johnson.

In short, NewsHour funders represent the most entrenched wealth and power in America, a plutocracy that holds the purse strings of philanthropic lucre capable of buying the loyalty of jingoistic journalists.

Woodruff herself is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential private group that sets American foreign policy objectives and has close ties to the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence communities. In the past, another prominent funder of the program was Leidos, a private intelligence-gathering corporation that receives billions of dollars in contracts from the Pentagon and various U.S. spy agencies.

This cozy relationship often makes it difficult to distinguish the difference between propaganda and news.

Earlier this year, for example, the NewsHour failed to inform viewers that Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, was formerly a national security advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Rosenberg was interviewed by PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor about the alleged dangers posed by Russian meddling in U.S. politics. Alcindor and Woodruff also refrained from mentioning that the Alliance for Securing Democracy is funded by the German Marshall Fund, a Cold War government think tank that has provided funding to the NewsHour in the past.

Experts interviewed on the news program are frequently affiliated with think tanks and advocacy groups that receive funding from the same non-profit organizations that fund the NewsHour. These obvious conflicts of interest are, nevertheless, often overlooked, which results in slanted news coverage.

The Pulitzer Center’s biased reporting on Venezuela, which airs periodically on the NewsHour, dovetails with CIA and U.S. State Department efforts to destabilize that nation’s internal affairs and depose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.  This is not a coincidence.

In 2018, Indira Lakshmanan, the executive editor of the Pulitzer Center, and Jamie Fly, a top official from the German Marshall Fund, gave keynote speeches at a meeting of members of the U.S. Special Operations Command, which was organized to discuss how to best promulgate propaganda for the U.S. military. The meeting was part of a seminar held by the U.S. Institute for Peace, which is a government think tank created not to bring peace but wage wars through American global interventions. The U.S. Institute for Peace helped formulate policy positions for the wars in Iraq and and Afghanistan.

In his opening remarks at the seminar, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife said, “Truth is not always enough to counter an adversary’s narrative.” …[B]y being better storytellers, not simply couriers of facts and raw data, we may be better equipped for future challenges.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Silfe

Lakshmanan of the Pulitzer Center warned the gathering that the American public is vulnerable to foreign propaganda. “Americans of all political stripes need to realize that they are potential targets,” she said. “We can all be inadvertently weaponized.”

American produced propaganda in the guise of news reporting is apparently acceptable to the U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Invitations to the Gateway Journalism Review fundraiser include a quote attributed to Judy Woodruff that says: “A free press is at the heart of a democracy; it’s what ties the American people to their government, to each other, and to the rest of the world.”

Her words represent a worthy ideal. The problem is PBSNewsHour does not represent the free press.

 

Buried History


Does radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project and Cold War still lurk near or under the dorms at Washington University?

first published in the Riverfront Times, May 27, 1998

Photo from a 1952 Wash U Alumni Bulletin shows two engineers burying radioactive waste from the cyclotron in the South 40.

 

An official Washington University photograph from 1952 shows two engineers — who donned lab coats and gas masks for the occasion — dumping radioactive waste out of galvanized steel trash cans into a hole in the ground. Other photos from the same series show the duo setting fire to the waste. The photo caption identifies the burial site as being behind then-Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton’s residence. The university published the photograph in its Alumni Bulletin to assure the public that radioactive waste from the school’s atomic cyclotron was being disposed of properly.

What may have been considered proper nuclear etiquette in the 1950s, however, is subject to question nowadays, and the answers have proven to be more than a little elusive. Indeed, nobody really even knows exactly what is buried on the South 40 of the Washington University campus, where dormitories are now located. But for decades, recurrent stories have alluded to the internment of radioactive waste at the site. Late last year (1997), after the university began building a series of new residence halls, in the southwest corner of the tract, a spokesman for the university dismissed the allegations as unfounded.

“We’ll categorically deny all of that,” says Fred Volkmann, the spokesperson. “I can assure you that everything that was there was removed, but that, at the time it was removed, it had no measurable radioactivity. I don’t think that you’ve got a story.”

Washington University alumnus Martin Walsh, however,  thinks otherwise.

“I don’t know if there is anything there or not,” says 62-year-old Walsh. “But why the hell would they run us out of there in 1955?”

In the spring semester of that year, a university administrator ordered members of his military drill group, the Pershing Rifles, to avoid the area, Walsh said. Before the edict, Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadets had roamed the woods near the corner of Wydown Avenue and Big Bend Boulevard on nocturnal maneuvers. When the university forced an end to these forays, Walsh worried that he and his comrades might be disciplined for lighting campfires or worse. “To be frank, we had trouble with fellows who took binoculars and wanted to look into the girls’ dorms at Fontbonne College,” says Walsh, referring to the then-exclusively women college south of the site.

Instead, the administrator warned the cadets that the site had been used to bury radioactive waste created by the cyclotron — the university’s World War II vintage atom smasher.

Walsh’s memories of the incident were jogged recently by the sight of the new dorms going up at the location. He speculates that the sinkhole, over which the new dorms have been built, is filled with 60 feet of dirt. Walsh, a civil engineer and former St. Louis building commissioner, expresses concern that excavation work could possibly have brought some of the radioactive waste back to the surface. 

Although documents eventually furnished by the university tend to support its contention that radioactive materials dumped on the campus in the past were not hazardous, nothing indicates they were ever removed, as Volkmann claims. Moreover, substantiation of the university’s position depends heavily on two former cyclotron staff members who provided, at best, sketchy recollections. Both men possessed only partial knowledge of the cyclotron’s operational history because they began their careers long after the machine had been placed in service.

The university further cast doubt upon itself by restricting access to Chancellor Compton’s files. In another instance, a relevant dissertation, which could disclose important details, has somehow been misplaced or lost by the university.

By any reasonable standard, the record of radioactive waste disposal on campus is incomplete. Nonetheless, for more than 40 years, the university has assured the public that there is no danger.  [Former] University Chancellor William H. Danforth, for example, made such a statement in a letter to local environmentalist Kay Drey in 1978.

Drey accepted the chancellor’s word then; she is less sure now.

“If the materials were so short-lived that they would have decayed in a short period of time, why were they buried in the first place?” Drey asks. “And if they were short-lived, why were they dug up decades later? What proof is there that they were dug up? Where were they sent, and when?”

A long forgotten legacy

The legacy of radioactive waste, which Walsh stumbled onto as an ROTC cadet in the mid-1950s, began long before his college days.

In September 1938, Arthur Hughes, then chairman of the physics department, began preliminary inquiries into how to expand Washington University’s role in the burgeoning field of nuclear physics. By this time, American scientists were aware that recent discoveries had advanced the knowledge necessary for Germany to build an atomic bomb. This led to a sense of urgency among researchers before the United States entered World War II.

After Hughes recommended that a cyclotron be built, the Rockefeller Foundation provided a $60,000 grant. Additional funding for the project had already been committed by the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology of Washington University Medical School. The institute was named after the founder of Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, the company that ultimately supplied the Army with the refined uranium necessary to build the atomic bomb.

During its construction, the university publicized the 80-ton, electromagnetic device as the latest medical weapon in the battle against human disease. Researchers, indeed, used the radioactive isotopes created by the cyclotron for experimental cancer therapy. From the beginning, however, the medical applications overlapped with military interests. By early 1942, only a few months after its completion, Washington University scientists had already started employing the machine for secret atomic-bomb work under a contract with the federal government’s Office of Scientific Research and Development.

Using the 50,000-watt cyclotron, a Washington University team bombarded hundreds of thousands of pounds of uranyl nitrate, which had been refined at Mallinckrodt, to create microscopic quantities of plutonium. The cyclotron staff then sent the uranium and plutonium to the University of Chicago to be separated. By this point, the specially created Manhattan District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had taken over the supervision of the atomic-bomb program, which later became known simply as the Manhattan Project.

Secrecy surrounded the entire endeavor. Scientists acquired pseudonyms; the nascent bomb became known as “the gadget”; coded log-book entries referred to uranium as “band-aid box, “gunk” or “special stuff.” The secret work at Washington University continued for the next two-and-a-half years. But another eight years would pass before the university itself openly discussed the radioactive cyclotron waste.

Finally, in October 1952, the university’s Alumni Bulletin published a photograph showing the two cyclotron engineers dumping radioactive waste on the southern part of the campus, hoping to assure the alumni and the public that radioactive waste from the cyclotron was being disposed of properly. Within a few years, however, the school changed its policy and began shipping all of its irradiated materials in special containers to an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) site in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

This decision to move future waste off campus dovetailed neatly with the university administration’s plans to build student housing in the vicinity of the radioactive burial site. When construction began in 1958 on the tract behind the chancellor’s residence, university officials tried to find out where the waste had been dumped by asking the two cyclotron engineers who had posed for the photographs. Details of those interviews are contained in internal memorandums, which the university allowed a reporter for the The Riverfront Times to read but not photocopy. The following account is based on information culled from those memos.

The late John T. Hood Sr., who ultimately became director of cyclotron operations, was one of the two engineers known to have been questioned. He and his colleague, Bradbury Phillips, were the two individuals who had earlier been featured in the Alumni Bulletin photos. Before his death in 1996, the university called on Hood to answer questions about the early disposal practices at the cyclotron facility. Hood invariably calmed concerns over the issue using his personal knowledge.

However, an Aug. 18, 1958, internal university memo indicates Hood was absent from the campus during his military service and on return could not remember exactly where the waste had been buried. According to the memo: “Mr. J.T. Hood, electrical engineer at the cyclotron, helped with some of the waste disposal work although he was in the Army during a large fraction of the interval of interest. … Mr. Hood has surveyed the terrain in the neighborhood of the burial ground and reports that it has been altered as to make the identification of the exact burial spots impossible.”

By 1958, Phillips, the other source on which the university relied, had moved to the University of Colorado. In a written response Phillips provided his recollections on the subject. He, too, prefaced his words with doubt.

“That’s a rough set of questions,” wrote Phillips. “I’ve racked my brain all day trying to recall the answers. It must be close to ten years since our first burial. As an initial date somewhere in 1949 or 1950 sticks in my head. I don’t think any burials were made later than early 1955. After that we shipped the stuff out in 50-gallon paper-board barrels.”

Phillips also expressed uncertainty on the number of burials in which he had participated, guessing that total to be between five and eight. He suggested that log-book entries be checked to verify the number of burials, but there is no mention of whether the log books were ever examined. The engineer then attempted to locate the burial sites on a rough map of the area. He stated, however, that a more accurate diagram of the burial locations had been drawn up by the cyclotron staff in the past. Investigators failed to find that diagram, according to one of the memos. When a search team uncovered a discrepancy between Phillips’ recollection and their records, they chose to accept Phillips’ version rather than their own. Investigators subsequently dug test holes and scanned the area with a Geiger counter, detecting only normal background levels of radiation.

But trying to pinpoint the exact burial sites on a 40-acre wooded tract of land proved futile.

Phillips estimated the size of the dumping ground as 50 to 70 feet in diameter. “The ground fell off to a ravine running north and south, which intersected the old creek bed,” he wrote. “Trash and dirt were filled in from the east side of this ravine. Our procedure was to bury at the foot of this hill so the next few loads would cover it. Within a week, this surface was 8 to 10 feet under the surface of the trash and dirt.” Phillips’ description is similar to what a sinkhole would look like that was being used as a landfill, which is what the university used the property for in those days.

The burial rites for the radioactive waste followed a pattern that rarely deviated. According to Phillips, the waste was dumped and then burned “so that the final volume of material never exceeded 2 cubic feet. All laboratory glass was broken. With one exception, no containers were used. The exception was a one-gallon can; its contents were poured into the hole, and the can punctured. All other waste was uncontained.”

Most of the radioactive waste was paper used to prevent surface contamination at the cyclotron facility, Phillips wrote. Included among the buried artifacts, however, were a few 8-by-10 pieces of brass. “We never buried large amounts of (radio)activity and any long-lived (materials) had been set aside to decay to low levels before burial,” wrote Phillips. Although the half-lives of the materials were allegedly determined in advance of disposal, Phillips confessed he didn’t know what exactly he was burying. “I would say the bulk of the radioactive material was unidentified,” he wrote.

Nothing in Phillips’ account alludes to the waste ever being dug up and removed as the spokesman for the university now asserts. Moreover, the cyclotron engineer’s chronology only covers the last six years that radioactive waste is known to have been disposed of on campus. Contrary to Phillips’ statement, the cyclotron began operating in early 1942, not 1945. The omission leaves a seven-year gap for which there is no apparent record.

Whereas, Phillips claimed radioactive materials were buried as few as five times in six years, another cyclotron technician’s estimates suggest that disposal may have occurred more frequently. The late Albert A. Schulke, who began working at the cyclotron during World War II, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1952 that it wasn’t unusual for the accumulated radioactive waste to fill three standard-size rubbish cans in a two-month period. Schulke’s estimates — added over a 13-year period — indicate the possibility of 234 separate waste-disposal occurrences.

Similar to Phillips’ account, Schulke vouched for the benign nature of the waste, although the 1952 news story mentions that cyclotron burial squads took the precaution of wearing respirators to keep from breathing radioactive dust. The nuclear gravediggers were also reported to have dressed in rubber boots and gloves and handled radioactive materials with long, “non-magnetic” tongs. Several years later, Schulke complained to another reporter of recurring pain in his fingers caused by radiation burns he received in 1948. The cyclotron technician, nevertheless, praised the safety of burying the waste on the South 40, an area he considered secure. “We can be sure no one is ever going to build there, and dig up the waste materials,” said Schulke.

After the war, Washington University published a booklet that boasted of its role in the production of the first atomic bombs. The work included the following statement:

“Certain investigations of a scientific nature, not yet released, were carried out for the Metallurgical Laboratory. Among these was an investigation which constituted the dissertation for the degree of Ph.D awarded to Harry W. Fulbright.”

The Metallurgical Laboratory was the code name for the secret atomic-weapons research facility at the University of Chicago, where Compton oversaw the first controlled nuclear chain reaction on Dec. 2, 1942. Although Chicago acted as the hub for the research, Washington University supplied the initial plutonium.

Fulbright’s dissertation, which would provide precise details of how early cyclotron experiments were conducted here, appears to have never been declassified. The doctoral paper is absent from the catalogue of Olin Library at Washington University. It’s missing from the physics department library on campus, too. A search of two national databases turned up nothing more than a brief citation. Fulbright, who is now an emeritus professor at the University of Rochester, says he doesn’t even have a copy.

In his written reply to an inquiry by the Riverfront Times, Fulbright wrote: “I have carefully gone through my papers without finding a copy. … In the late 1940s, while at Princeton University … I recall vaguely having received a partially declassified copy.” Fulbright further stated that the goal of his experiment at Washington University was to establish a nuclear energy scheme for plutonium 239. I think the average reader would fine it dry as sawdust.”

The subtleties of sawdust, of course, are infinitely more discernible than atomic particles. Discarded radioisotopes can come in hundreds of varieties and contaminate soil, water or air. The resulting radioactivity may decay in minutes or days or last forever.

“When uranium or plutonium undergoes fission, there are about 700 or 800 different ways that those two pieces can come into existence,” says John W. Gofman, a professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley. Gofman, who took part in the Manhattan Project research at Berkeley, later became an outspoken critic of the nuclear power juggernaut. Gofman cites strontium 90 and cesium 137 as two common radioactive isotopes that could be created during fission. Each of these substances possesses a half-life of approximately 30 years. This means half of the radioactivity emitted from these isotopes decays within three decades. So any strontium 90 or cesium 137 created during World War II would still be emitting more than one-fourth of its original radioactivity today (1998).

But Arthur C. Wahl, a former Washington University chemistry professor, insists that low-level radioactive waste created by the cyclotron, during World War II and the postwar era, would pose no current health or environmental danger. He is less certain, however, about the exact location of the waste. “I don’t know about it,” says Wahl, who is living in retirement in Los Alamos, N.M. “I’ve been questioned about this before by environmentalists and so forth. This (the dumping of the radioactive waste on the South 40) was done before I was associated with the cyclotron, if it was done at all.”

Wahl joined the faculty after the bomb hit Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. By this time, Compton had already accepted the chancellorship, although his role as a Manhattan Project consultant would continue covertly for more than a year. In addition to Wahl, Compton recruited Joseph W. Kennedy directly from the Los Alamos laboratory, where both had worked on the atomic bomb under J. Robert Oppenheimer. Earlier in their careers, the two scientists had collaborated with Glenn T. Seaborg and Emilio Segre at the Berkeley radiation laboratory of Ernest O. Lawrence. Compton also drafted a bevy of other talented chemists from Los Alamos, including Lindsay Helmholtz, David Lipkin, Herbert Potratz and Samuel Weissman.

Arthur Holly Compton

In part through Compton’s military connections, the university began nuclear experiments financed by the Office of Naval Research in 1946. Then in 1947, the AEC contracted the university to produce isotopes not obtainable at nuclear reactors. Other research on campus involved investigating the possibility of creating nuclear-powered aircraft, warships and submarines. Meanwhile, the university constructed a radiochemistry laboratory adjacent to the cyclotron with $300,000 from an anonymous donor, according to the February 1947 issue of the Washington University Aumni Bulletin.

Besides military work, the cyclotron continued to serve medical researchers and also private corporations, including Anheuser-Busch, Phillips Petroleum, McDonnell-Douglas, Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) and General Electric.

Not surprisingly, by the time Walsh entered Washington University’s civil-engineering program in the mid-1950s, the military-industrial complex was well-ensconced on campus. No one then doubted the propriety of this menage a trois anymore than they questioned the disposal of radioactive waste on the South 40. But Walsh does remember receiving a warning from professor Kennedy, the co-discoverer of plutonium. “I had him for Chemistry 101 and Chemistry 102,” says Walsh. “He said, ‘We buried a lot of stuff (radioactive waste) up there. You guys shouldn’t be going up there.’ He told us that after a lecture, when I asked him about it.”

Within two years of issuing the caveat, Kennedy himself died of cancer.

By 1960, the federal government established the first comprehensive radiation standards. For materials that cause genetic damage, the guidelines set protective limits 100 times higher for the general public than for atomic-industry workers. Five years earlier, T.C. Carter, a British researcher, had pondered the genetic consequences of radiation exposure in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

“In my opinion, we cannot today make any useful quantitative assessment of the genetic consequences of exposure of human populations to ionizing radiations at low dosage rates; we know far too little about human population structure and the induction of mutations in man,” wrote Carter. “But we know enough to be apprehensive about genetic dangers!”

Compton included this quotation in his memoir, Atomic Quest. It appears in the chapter titled “Hope.”

 

 

 

 

 

Suspect No. 11

Newly released FBI records name the late Anthony F. Sansone Sr. as a suspect in the 1981 car bombing of Paul Leisure.

The FBI listed prominent St. Louis real estate developer Anthony F. Sansone Sr. as a suspect in the 1981 car bombing of underworld figure Paul John Leisure, according to bureau records released in August 2020 under the Freedom of Information Act.

Sansone is listed in the FBI report as Suspect No. 11.

Leisure, leader of a  faction of the St. Louis Syrian mob, lost both legs in the Aug. 11, 1981 bombing. The bomb exploded after Leisure got behind the wheel of his 1979 Cadillac near his residence on Nottingham Avenue in South St. Louis.

“The bombing of Leisure was apparently in retaliation for the bombing death of James Anthony Michaels Sr. in September 1980,” according to the FBI report.

Sansone was Michaels’s son-in-law.

Michaels, who was 75 years of age at the time of his death, oversaw organized crime in South St. Louis for decades. He began his criminal career during the Prohibition Era, and later forged an alliance with Italian Mafia boss Anthony “Tony G.” Giordano. After Giordano’s death from cancer in 1980, a violent power struggle developed between the Michaels and Leisure clans.

Michaels gang member George M. Faheen — Suspect No. 10 — was murdered by the Leisure faction in a retaliatory  car bombing less two months after the Leisure bombing. Jack Issa another suspect in the Leisure case died later of natural causes in Arkansas without being apprehended. Both Faheen and Issa were suspected of taking an active role in the Leisure bombing, and were known criminals. Sansone, on the other hand, had no criminal record, but was, nevertheless, listed with them and others.  All other suspects listed in the report have had their names redacted by the FBI, including Suspect No. 7, who the report says was fingerprinted by the Department of Defense for a top-secret security clearance.

Scene of the crime: Mansion House Apartments parking garage in downtown St. Louis, where Suspect No. 10 —  George M. Faheen — died, Oct. 17, 1981.

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI released only the names of individuals known to be deceased.

Sansone’s alleged organized crime ties first made national headlines in a 1970 Life magazine story by Denny Walsh, which claimed Sansone was an intermediary between Michaels and Giordano’s organized crime interests and then-St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes. Sansone’s was the mayor’s former business business partner and campaign manager. Sansone denied the allegations.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Globe-Democrat sided with Sansone and Cervantes, and condemned Walsh’s story, who was a former Globe-Democrat reporter.  Cervantes filed a $12 million libel suit against Life and Walsh, but it was dismissed in federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court later refused to hear the case.

But in the local court of public opinion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined that Walsh’s story was false and that it had smeared the entire city. The newspaper editorialized that “… visible evidence of everyday affairs in St. Louis does not support the correlative accusation of Life that organized crime flourishes here. On the contrary the city appears to be unusually free from the usual symptoms of such crime.”

Anthony F. Sansone Sr.

The car bombings a decade later proved the Post’s characterization false. But the initial push back served its intended effect. After the Post downplayed the Life story, Delugach quit the newspaper in protest. Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize with Walsh in 1969 for their reporting on labor racketeering inside Steamfitter’s Local 562, both reporters had been turned into pariahs and essentially banished from St. Louis.

The denial by the Post’s editorial page combined with the defensive posturing of the political and business establishments made it impossible for Delugach to remain in St. Louis. Before leaving town for a job at the Los Angles Times, he gave an interview to Post reporter Roy Malone, which was featured in the first edition of the St. Louis Journalism Review. In the interview, Delugach voiced bitterness over the biased coverage of Walsh and the Life magazine piece. When re-interviewed by Journalism Review in 2008, his opinion had not changed.

Although Walsh’s Life magazine story was trashed by the Post’s editorial page, another Post reporter, Edward H. Thornton, continued to shed light on Sansone’s alleged organized crime ties in the early 1970s through his reporting on a federal racketeering trial in Los Angeles. Giordano and the five other Mafia defendants were convicted along with Emprise Corp. in April 1972 of conspiring to conceal ownership of the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1966 and 1967. Following its conviction, Emprise, a mobbed-up sports concessionaire, changed its name to Delaware North.

Sansone testified at the Los Angeles trial that he delivered $150,000 to the managing director of the Frontier Hotel and Casino, but denied traveling to Las Vegas with Giordano.  During the trial, federal prosecutor Thomas E. Kotoske alleged that Sansone was Giordano’s “front man.”  A federal grand jury in Los Angeles convened in 1973 to examine the veracity of Sansone’s testimony, but did not indict him for perjury.

The Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

In a prelude to the troubles in St. Louis, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix on June 2, 1976, killing Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. By the time of his death, Bolles had been investigating Emprise for years. His dying words implicated both the Mafia and Emprise for his murder. Bolles had earlier warned Congress of Emprise’s mob connections. On May 16, 1972, he testified before the House Crime Committee that Emprise had engaged “in a continual association with organized crime figures over a 35-year period.”

Citing FBI records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Post-Dispatch reporters Curt Matthews and Robert Adams in 1977 revealed that during the 1960s the bureau provided information on the New Left to Walsh in its efforts to discredit civil rights activists and members of the anti-Vietnam war movement.  When asked, Walsh admitted he had FBI sources when he was at the Globe, and confirmed that Globe publisher Richard H. Amberg had a cordial relationship with the bureau. Federal law enforcement sources were also known to have provided Walsh with information on Cervantes and the Steamfitters.

Al Delugach won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1969.

By the late 1970s, however, Walsh’s glory days in St. Louis were long gone. Like his reporting partner, he had moved to the West Coast, where he joined the staff of the Sacramento Bee. The war in Vietnam had ended, too, and with it a change in political climate. St. Louis organized crime was also in transition. Giordano’s death in 1980, touched off a violent turf war. By then, however, the reporting of Denny Walsh and Al Delugach had already been dismissed or forgotten.

When 93-year-old  Anthony F. Sansone Sr. died in April 2020, his alleged ties to organized crime were omitted from the Post-Dispatch obituary, and history had effectively been revised.

Not Your Mother’s RFT

The St. Louis alternative weekly newspaper that prides itself for being progressive has bedded down with a Wall Street sugar daddy and a Pentagon contractor.

Neil Barsky Occupies This.

The July 29 edition of the Riverfront Times featured a cover story that focused on the wrongful death of a young man in a rural Missouri jail. It was a well-reported story, and it had all the hallmarks of the kind of advocacy journalism that the newspaper has supported since its inception.  But there was one difference.

The RFT did not generate the story.

Instead, the story was commissioned by the Marshall Project, a non-profit corporation founded by former Wall Street hedge fund tycoon Neil Barsky. After Barsky’s shaky hedge fund empire crashed and burned in 2008, the former Wall Street Journal reporter experienced a life-altering  conversion: He became a social justice crusader, or at least that’s the established narrative.

The Marshall Project, which draws public attention to abuses within the criminal justice system, is bankrolled through the generosity of various wealthy individuals and corporate foundations — that thrive on America’s continued inequities, including the CIA-connected Ford Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and Barsky himself.

Neil Barsky, Wall Street’s caped crusader.

The Marshall Project’s board of advisors includes philanthropic honchos, silk-stocking lawyers and investment bankers. One advisor, for example, is an exec who works at the Blackstone Group, the financial behemoth that holds a five percent share in Republic Services, the waste hauler that owns the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill in St. Louis County.

Besides the Wall Street largess, the RFT is now accepting at least a small amount of advertising dollars from a Pentagon contractor.

A want ad for RiverTech, an Air Force contractor that has recently set up shop at nearby Scott Air Force Base, appears in the lower left-hand corner of page 7 of the same issue of the Riverfront Times, directly below an advertisement for the online edition of the newspaper itself. The top half of the same page featured a column by Ray Hartmann,  the newspaper’s founder, who cranked out the publication’s first edition in 1977.

 

 

RiverTech, an Air Force contractor, is looking for a few good men or women to support its military mission.

Back in those days, taking Pentagon dollars would have been considered a betrayal of the principles of the left-leaning alternative press that was borne out of the tumultuous anti-war movement of the 1960s and the muckraking of the Watergate era.

But times have changed.

RiverTech is a subsidiary of Akima, whose parent corporation is the NANA Regional Corp., which is owned by Alaskan Native Americans. Under Small Business Administration regulations NANA’s subsidiaries are eligible to obtain limitless no-bid federal contracts.

Hartmann, who sold the RFT in 1998, came back last year and began writing a weekly commentary for the latest owners, Euclid Media Group of Cleveland.

Banished

St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporters Al Delugach and Denny Walsh won the Pulitzer in 1969. Their reward: One-way tickets out of town. first published in the St. Louis Journalism Review, June 1, 2008

It’s been a while since the last St. Louis newspapermen garnered a Pulitzer Prize for reporting–39 years to be exact. St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporters Denny Walsh and Albert L. Delugach received the honor on May 5, 1969.

Al Delugach won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1970.

Their award now hangs on the wall behind the reference desk at the Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Surrounded by unrelated bric-a-brac, journalism’s highest honor and its recipients are easily overlooked.

The St. Louis Media Halls of Fame are also located at the Mercantile, which acquired the Globe-Democrat files after the newspaper folded in 1986. But when the group’s third annual awards are presented at a gala dinner on June 7 at the Khorassan Ballroom of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, Walsh and Delugach are not on the list — again.

Their former boss, the late G. Duncan Bauman, however, was among the first to receive the laurel three years ago. On its lower level, the Mercantile displays a permanent exhibit of his memorabilia, including his desk. As publisher of the Globe-Democrat, Bauman was most likely seated at that desk when he decided to kill Denny Walsh’s story that linked then-St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes, Jr. to the St. Louis underworld.

And it’s also where he probably sat when he refused to allow Walsh and Delugach to report on stymied federal indictments of the steamfitters union, which they had investigated. They gave their story to the Wall Street Journal, a ploy that broke the indictments loose and resulted in their winning the Pulitzer Prize.

The reporters were an odd couple–Walsh looking like a boxer and Delugach like a shy botany professor. Bauman, who became their nemesis, had such an ego that he had himself named the city’s Man of The Year in what he thought would be the Globe-Democrat’s final Sunday magazine in 1984. It included 33 photos of him.

In 1995, Bauman told St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jerry Berger that he halted publication of that story to save the integrity of the newspaper.

“I found he went to great lengths to link Mayor Cervantes to organized crime,” said Bauman. “I then made some personal phone calls to the sources that Walsh said he was using and found out Walsh was not reflecting the views of those sources accurately. So, I told Walsh we would not print that installment of the [series]…. Walsh became angry and quit.”

“He lied to Berger,” counters Walsh, who, at 72, is still a working reporter for the Sacramento Bee. “He couldn’t have talked to any of my sources. They weren’t in St. Louis, and they wouldn’t have talked to him. The sources were all federal. I believe he let his unsavory connections in the community guide his stewardship of the Globe,” Walsh adds. “I know that he told Cervantes that he had taken care of that series.”

After leaving the Globe-Democrat, Walsh joined the staff of Life Magazine, taking his spiked story and notes with him. His eight-page investigative report–“St. Louis, the Mayor, the Mob and the Lawyer”– appeared in the magazine’s May 29, 1970, issue. The account named names, dates and places and included information from FBI reports and wiretap transcripts.

The story that Bauman had prevented from running locally had gained national exposure.

Walsh alleged the mayor had mobbed-up business ties and main-rained a “steady liaison” with organized crime figures through Anthony Sansone, his campaign manager. Sansone, a successful real estate broker, was the son-in-law of Jimmy Michaels, leader of the Syrian faction of St. Louis’ underworld. Michaels, in turn, was a criminal associate of Anthony “Tony G” Giordano, don of the St. Louis mafia.

Anthony Sansone Sr.

Walsh reported Sansone arranged a 1964 campaign-strategy session between Michaels and the mayor. After Cervantes won the mayoral primary, according to Walsh, Sansone attended another strategy meeting with Michaels and Giordano.

The lawyer mentioned in Life’s headline was St. Louis criminal defense attorney Morris Shenker, part owner of the Dunes casino in Las Vegas and counsel to numerous mobsters and corrupt labor bosses, including Teamster President James R. Hoffa and Lawrence Callanan, the head of Steamfitters Local 562 in St. Louis. Despite these questionable associations, Cervantes had brazenly appointed Shenker, a political crony and Democratic power broker, to head the city’s Commission on Crime and Law Enforcement.

The mayor and his backers reacted to the Life story as if Walsh had set off a bomb inside the rotunda at City Hall. Cervantes complained that he was not only defamed, but that the reputations of the entire city and all its inhabitants were under attack. Shenker and Sansone denied wrongdoing, labeling the accusations as false. The mayor subsequently sued Walsh and the magazine for libel but failed to recover damages. In the court of public opinion, however, local broadcast and print media overwhelmingly sided with Cervantes.

 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for instance, editorialized that “… visible evidence of everyday affairs in St. Louis does not support the correlative accusation of Life that organized crime flourishes here. On the contrary the city appears to be unusually free from the usual symptoms of such crime….”

The idea that St. Louis had been spared the deleterious influence of organized crime must have come as news to Delugach, Walsh’s former partner. They shared the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for doggedly investigating Local 562. The byline of Delugach and Walsh appeared at the top of more than 300 stories from 1965-1968. Their collaborative effort revealed a pattern of labor racketeering that resulted in multiple federal indictments having to do with a kickback scheme related to the sale of insurance to the union’s pension fund.

By the time Walsh’s Life article appeared, Delugach had also left the Globe-Democrat, joining the staff of the Post. His tenure was brief, however, lasting only a year-and-a-half. Shortly after the Post absolved the mayor and declared the city free from organized crime, Delugach quit in protest.

“If I had thought that this was just the opinion of the editorial page of the Post, I might have borne up under it,” he told SJR, which covered his resignation in its first issue.

Instead, Delugach found that the same attitude permeated the newsroom.

“I didn’t want to work for a newspaper that had this view of organized crime and that had this way of dismissing the most serious accusations against its top (city) official.” Delugach found the premise that organized crime was non-existent in St. Louis untenable.

“I think it has been voluminously proved that it is a major factor in all kinds of crime–in all cities,” he said.

When he made this statement, Delugach was 44 and had been a staff reporter at three daily newspapers in Kansas City and St. Louis for nearly two decades. After leaving the Post, he moved to the West Coast, where he continued as an investigative reporter for another 20 years, retiring from the Los Angeles Times in 1989. Reached by phone at his home in Los Angeles, the 82-year-old retiree still expressed outrage over the affair.

“It was really an insult for them to come out with that attitude in print,” says Delugach. “I took it very personally. I figured there was no future here for me. The Globe-Democrat had people that had an interest in not stirring things up, but the Post-Dispatch, they were just so aloof. Even after what we did–getting the Pulitzer Prize–they didn’t act like it had any validity at all. They didn’t demonstrate at all that they considered it important after they hired me. I don’t know why they bothered.”

Delugach recalls the Post sent him to Alaska to cover the oil boom for two months. It was a plum assignment, but far from the beat that had nabbed the Pulitzer. In retrospect, it almost seems like the Post used its deep pockets to send him into exile.

By contrast, Delugach and Walsh had the full support of Richard Amberg, the previous publisher of the Globe-Democrat who originally teamed them up. But after Ainberg died and Bauman took over in 1967, Walsh noticed a change in course.

“Al and I were having a lot of difficulty with Bauman,” says Walsh. “He began to squeeze us on what we were doing, in respect to the steamfitters.”

The impasse reached a critical stage after Walsh learned through his sources in Washington that top Department of Justice officials had quashed the federal criminal prosecution of those involved in the $1 million steamfitters’ kickback conspiracy case.

“We wrote that story and handed it in,” says Walsh. “He (Bauman) killed it.”

Walsh says he then leaked the piece to Wall Street Journal Reporter Nicholas Gage. After the Journal ran the story, Delugach and Walsh were free to report on it in the Globe-Democrat. More important, the news coverage forced the Justice Department to reverse its decision and go forward with the prosecution.

“We wouldn’t have won the Pulitzer Prize had the indictment not been returned,” Walsh says.

The defendants included the president of the First United Life Insurance Co. of Gary, Ind., and two officials of Local 562. Court documents named Shenker and Callanan as beneficiaries of the scheme, but they weren’t charged. John “Doc” Lawler, another top steamfitter official, also allegedly benefited from the kickbacks.

John O’Connell Hough, Lawler’s personal attorney and un-indicted co-conspirator, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, but never got the chance to testify. The Clayton-based lawyer disappeared in the Miami area on Aug. 12, 1967. Two months later, fishermen discovered his body in a secluded pine grove near the Inter-Coastal Waterway several miles north of Bal Harbour, Fla. Hough had been beaten and shot to death with .38-caliber handgun. The homicide remains unsolved.

After Hough’s murder, two prosecution witnesses refused to testify, and the defendants were acquitted.

In the intervening decades, the Post’s editorial position has been accepted as unequivocal. Nowadays it is taken for granted that organized crime no longer exists in St. Louis.

Walsh refuses to speculate on whether the mob is dead or alive here.

“I’ve been gone for 40 years. I don’t know what’s going on there. I don’t know what the Post is doing or not doing.”

The veteran reporter is sure of this much: “I would not want to be a member of any organization, or any group or any entity that counts Duncan Bauman as a member. I think he’s a stain on St. Louis journalism.”