Ray Hartmann

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.

The History of Pimping

 When newspaper tycoon Mike Lacey,  former owner of the St. Louis Riverfront Times, was busted for pimping in California this week,  his arrest was long overdue. More than a decade earlier, a federal probe linked RFT sex ads to the Eastside rackets. 

[This story was first published in  January 2, 2004.]

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Mugshot of Mike Lacey courtesy of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.

Pimping and Publishing, What’s the Dif?

Dennis W. Sonnenschein will have plenty of time to reflect on his business career over the next year. Yesterday (January 1, 2004), the St. Louis area massage parlor owner reported to federal prison to begin serving a one-year sentence for “misprision of a felony,” a charge similar to obstruction of justice.

In November, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Michael Shaw reported that Sonnenschein was sentenced to a year in jail in federal court in East St. Louis. The court also ordered Sonnenschein to pay a $250,000 fine and give $1 million to Eastside charities. Sonnenschein must also hand over five parcels of property in Brooklyn, Ill., where the now-defunct Free Spirit Massage Parlor was located. Sonnenschein, who headed the A to Z Development Corp., admitted to the court that businesses located on his property were engaged in prostitution. The current owners of the sex businesses operating on his property were not charged. Although the property was listed in his estranged wife’s name, Linda Sonnenscbein wasn’t charged, either.

Sonnenschein, 59, has been engaged in the flesh trade since the 1970s, when he operated mobile massage parlors from the backs of vans in St. Louis County. Sonnenschein’s latest bust appears to have been part of a larger federal investigation into prostitution on the Eastside.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark indicated that the owners of Free Spirit advertised in Missouri publications from 1994 until 2000, the Post reported. Sonnenschein was indicted because the ads drew customers and prostitutes across state lines, which is a federal crime. The Riverfront Times publishes ads for the Eastside strip clubs and massage parlors every week. The time period investigated by federal prosecutors, 1994-2000, spanned the ownership change at the RFT. Hartmann Publishing, owned by Ray Hartmann, sold the newspaper to the New Times, a Phoenix-based chain, in late 1998.

But Sonnenschein’s trail extends further into the past. In September 1983, Post staffer Ronald Lawrence reported that one of Sonnenschein’s business associates was Fernando “Nando” Bartolotta, a made member of the St. Louis mafia family, then under the leadership of the late Matthew Trupiano. Less than two years later, on April 10, 1985, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported on the federal trial of Bartolotta in East St. Louis. Federal prosecutors had charged Bartolotta and another Missouri resident with conspiring to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. Testifiying against Bartolotta was FBI informant Jesse Stoneking, who the defense claimed had intimidated and entrapped the St. Louis organized crime figure. Bartolotta’s defense attorney was reported in the Globe as Andrew Leonard. An attorney of the same name — Andrew Leonard — was the longtime general counsel for Hartmann Publishing, the original owner of the RFT.

Stoneking, the informant who testified against Bartolotta and dozens of other St. Louis mobsters in the 1980s, died of an apparent sucide in Maricopa County,  Arizona a year ago (2003). The Chicago mob had allegedly put a $100,000 contract out on Stoneking’s life after he became an informant.