st. louis post-dispatch

Blind Spot

When two Pentagon bosses showed up to grab a chunk of the city back in December, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch discretely chose not to mention them or the new military landlord on the Northside.

 

Better Dead than Red: Warning sign at 23rd and Cass cites the Internal Security Act of 1950.

The sign cautions visitors they are not welcome to enter without the permission of the “Installation Commander.” Bold letters above the warning identify the site as a U.S. Air Force installation. The advisory is posted on a locked gate at 23rd and Cass in North St. Louis, one of the entry points to the 97-acre development site of the planned National Geospatial Intelligence Agency headquarters.

The city, which spent $100 million in taxpayers funds to prepare the property, gave it away to the Air Force back on December 13 at a ceremony held at the St. Louis Public Library’s main branch. But readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were not informed of the identity of the new landlord in the story by reporter Jacob Barker the next day. Nor were newspaper readers informed of two high-ranking military officials who attended the event.

One of the unmentioned officials in the Post story, was Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert H. McMahon, who gave a speech to the 300 people in attendance. The other Pentagon speaker the newspaper forgot about was Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Richard K. Hartley, a former CIA operative detached to the National Reconnaissance Office from 1997 to 2003.

Dec. 13, 2018 NGA Land Transfer Ceremony honorees: (from left) federal felon and former St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney; unelected Missouri Gov. Mike Parson; Assistant Defense Secretary Robert McMahon, Deputy Assistant Air Force Secretary Richard K. Hartley, a former CIA agent; NGA Director Robert Cardillo; St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson; Rep Lacy Clay; Rep. Ann Wagner; Aldermanic President Louis Reed. (Photo courtesy of KMOX Radio, Debbie Monterrey)

In their comments, the two officials thanked St. Louisans  for their generosity, and alluded to the Air Force being happy to be “embedded” in St. Louis. Both military officials were applauded and warmly received by the audience. All the invited local dignities heaped praise on the cooperative spirit that was necessary to entice the spy agency to locate on the Northside. None hinted that it could be dangerous to locate a high-value enemy target in the middle of a densely populated urban area, nor did the Post story elude to this possible risk.

The warning sign on the gate of St. Louis’ new Air Force Installation prohibits entry to the site, citing the Internal Security Act of 1950, otherwise known as the Subversive Activities Control Act. President Harry Truman vetoed  that bill in September 1950, sending it back to Congress with a blistering message in which he slammed the legislation as “the greatest danger to freedom of speech, press, and assembly since the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798,” a “mockery of the Bill of Rights” and a “long step toward totalitarianism.” Influenced by the anti-communist hysteria of McCarthy Era, the House overwhelming overturned Truman’s veto.

St. Louis is now a garrison city. Its citizens paid for the privilege of being occupied.

 

A Good Day for a Hanging

Former County Executive Steve Stenger pleads not guilty to bribery, mail fraud, and theft of honest services, as giddiness infects the press gallery and U.S. Marshals hand out steno pads.

All Smiles: Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (fourth from left) poses with other dignitaries on Dec. 13, 2018 at the NGA Land Transfer ceremony held at the St. Louis Public Library Central Branch. Immediately behind Stenger is Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Richard K. Hartley, a former CIA operative attached to the National Reconnaissance Office, 1997 to 2003.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith stayed on script Monday afternoon, responding tersely to questions posed by a gaggle of reporters during a news conference held on the sidewalk outside the Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

“We are confident of our case,” Goldsmith said, referring to the three-count criminal indictment issued by the U.S. Justice Department against former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. Following this vague answer, a veteran broadcast journalist turned aside and muttered to himself: “Great sound bite — six words.”

The dearth of prosecutorial verbosity and courthouse histrionics did not deter the assembled press, however, from relishing the proceedings in an amicable atmosphere akin to the camaraderie shared by farmers of bygone days who went to town to witness a hanging in the public square.

To commemorate the auspicious event, U.S. Marshals offered free notebooks and pens, but there were few takers. The journalists in attendance seemed satisfied to gloat rather than scribble. KMOV-TV hired a sketch artist for the occasion.

The only thing missing were picnic baskets.

After pleading not guilty to bribery, mail fraud and theft of honest services, Stenger was released on his own recognizance by Judge Noelle  C. Collins. Celebrated defense attorney Scott Rosenblum represented Stenger during the arraignment.

The second term Democrat resigned from public office Monday morning following the release of the indictments. He had won reelection in November but continued to be dogged by allegations of corruption involving favors granted to campaign contributors, including businessman John Rallo. The scandal, which played out in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and before the St. Louis County Council over the course of the last year, centered on the actions of Stenger underling Shelia Sweeney, CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Five Post-Dispatch reporters contributed to the story today. A pack of TV and radio reporters were also present.

One of the many questions not asked of Goldsmith at his sidewalk press conference was whether federal investigators are probing the contract between the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and Kit Bond Strategies, the lobbying firm of former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and his wife.

In January 2016,   Linda Bond, the former senator’s wife, signed a contract with St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney. The Development Partnership is a joint government agency of the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, which wields broad powers and operates largely in the shadows with the benefit of millions of dollars in annual payments from  casino interests raked in by the St. Louis County Port Authority, an agency that shares the same staff as the Development Partnership. The County Port Authority’s purpose has nothing to do with ports. Instead, it acts as a conduit for the casino payments.

In 2016 and 2017, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership funneled $230,000 of public funds to Kit Bond Strategies, according to federal lobbying reports. Part of that total went to pay for the failed congressional effort to turn the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — an agency that expressed serious reservations about assuming the responsibility for taking control of the project in the first place. The exact amount spent specifically on the West Lake lobbying effort is uncertain. A request under the Missouri Sunshine Law for further details was denied last fall.  But this much is known:  the development agency’s contract called for KBS to be paid $10,000 a month for its services. The lobbying records show that the public money was doled out to the lobbyist in quarterly payments. The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership paid the lobbying firm an additional $60,000 in 2018 , but by then the effort to persuade Congress to turn the West Lake clean up over to the Corps had been dropped.

Note: Stenger pleaded guilty on May 3. 

The Mafia and Rex Sinquefield

In his bid to privatize the St. Louis airport, billionaire Rex Sinquefield jumped in bed with a consultant with mob ties, according to the feds.

Jeff Aboussie, a consultant connected to billionaire Rex Sinquefield’s scheme to privatize Lambert International Airport, has Mafia ties dating back to the 1980s, STLReporter has learned.

Aboussie’s Mafia connections are referenced in background information included in a 1988 federal appeals court ruling on a case involving convicted racketeer Sorkis Webbe Jr., a criminal associate of Aboussie’s.

Nov. 25, 1983 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The  information is contained in an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and is based on an FBI wiretap that captured conversations in which Aboussie discussed efforts to track down a rival gang member during a protracted turf war between competing factions of the St. Louis underworld in the early 1980s. The background in the appeals court decision names Aboussie as being associated with a Kansas City, Missouri organized crime family. The appeals court ruling goes on to say that Aboussie provided support to one of side of the gang war by “contacting the Denver and Chicago crime families.”

Aboussie, who now resides in the affluent suburban town of Wildwood, is the former head of the St. Louis Building and Constructions Trades Council. Prior to heading the council, he was affiliated with Operating Engineers Union Local 513. Aboussie resigned from the St. Louis Airport Commission in 2016 to form Regional Strategies, a consulting firm connected to Grow Missouri,  the non-profit corporation formed by Sinquefield to push the billionaire’s plan to privatize the city-owned airport. Aboussie was appointed to the commission by former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger in 2015. Stenger resigned last month and pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. 

 Webbe — Aboussie’s past partner in crime —  played a pivotal role in the federal sting that ultimately brought down Stenger, introducing the politician to shady businessman John Rallo and also attending a meeting with Stenger and St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney. Stenger and Sweeney pleaded guilty earlier this month for their roles in the pay-to-play scheme. Rallo pleaded not guilty to the same charges. Webbe was not charged. 

In 1983, Webbe and Aboussie were implicated by the feds in a conspiracy to harbor a fugitive wanted for participating in a series of gangland car-bombings here. The feds indicted Aboussie for lying to a federal grand jury about the plot. 

Aboussie later pleaded guilty to insurance fraud in a separate federal criminal case and received a six month sentence and five years probation. As a part of the same 1985 plea deal, the feds dropped the perjury charges. The full terms of the plea deal remain unknown.

In the current investigation, the U.S. attorney’s office here subpoenaed the personnel records of Lou Aboussie, Jeff Aboussie’s first cousin. Lou Aboussie was hired by Stenger in 2015 at an annual salary of more than $75,000. At the time of his resignation earlier this year, he was listed as working for the County Parks Department, then-headed by Gary Bess, another Stenger appointee who also quit in the shakeup of County government that took place in the wake of the federal indictments of Stenger and his accomplices. Lou Aboussie was formerly an aide to U.S . Rep. Lacy Clay.

 

 

America’s Propaganda Mill

The origins of modern propaganda, which continues to support America’s endless wars, dates back to World War I and is joined at the hip with the creation of the public relations industry. 

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Aug. 21, 1991
by C.D. Stelzer

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“The Road to Baghdad,” one of many titles on display in the downtown Mercantile Library’s reading room, doesn’t chronicle the latest military conflict. Instead, this example of yellowing journalism — part of an exhibit called “Words at War” — details the Turkish conquest during World War I.

One of David Cassens’ first duties after becoming a curator ot the Mercantile five years ago was creating an annotated catalog of World War I ephemera. Included are 394 propaganda titles from the era, many with anti-German views expressed by the British, French and eventually American propagandists.

“These pamphlets were sent to libraries, churches, schools, private individuals, even Rotary Clubs,” says Cassens. The intent was to sway American public opinion, he says. Ultimately, the campaign succeeded.

Like all good propaganda, the tracts contained elements of truth, says Cassens: “Unrestricted submarine warfare, the destruction of historic towns and the deportation of civilian populations to Germany to work on the labor force — these are all things did happen.” Germany’s ally, Turkey was also responsible for the first modern holocaust: the murder of about 1.5 million Armenians, says Cassens.

Despite all of this, before the Unites States joined in the allied effort, many influential members of the large German-American community in St. Louis argued for neutrality. Former library staffers recall German patrons objected to the material, Cassens says. So most of it was discreetly shelved and went unread.

Ignoring wartime hysteria didn’t make it go away. Germans were being stereotyped in the European propaganda as barbarous Huns. As the United States became drawn into the conflict, anti-German propaganda began to flourish here as well. One pamphlet, part of a “Patriotism Through Educations Series” issued by the National Security League, was called “The Tentacles of the German Octopus in America.” Written by a librarian and professor of history at the University of Syracuse University, it warned about German schools, churches, cultural societies and newspapers.

Another pamphlet, published by the U.S. government in cooperation with the St. Louis Republic, a daily newspaper, attributed all wartime rumors to German spies. The tract, titled “The Kaiserite in America: One Hundred and One German Lies,” implored traveling salesmen to report the identities of gossipmongers to the Committee on Public Information in Washington, D.C.

“You have met him, Mr. Commerical Traveler, … The agents of the Imperial German Government are busily spreading throughout the country all sorts of poisonous lies and disquieting rumors and insidious criticisms of the Government and its war-work. And in no place have they been busier than in tyhe Pullman smoking cars and the hotel lobbies.”

Mass paranoia bore its consequences. Cassens’ own great-grandparents, who immigrated from Germany, lived in Galanbeck, Ill. During the war, he says, the town’s name was changed to Hamel.

Assimilation had become a matter of survival for millions of German-Americans. Many were forced to kiss the American flag or sing the national anthem as a demonstration of allegiance. Those who chose to retain their ethnic identities or expressed divergent poliital views risked intimidation, jaile and even death. Armed guards patrolled the entrance to the nearby German settlement of Maeystown, Ill. for a brief time during World War I, says local historian Gloria Bundy. The sentries were posted in response to vigilantes from Williamson County whbo had threatened to abduct the Rev. Paul Schultz, the town’s minister for conducting services in German.

In St. Louis, Charles H. Weisberg, head of the German American Alliance in Missouri, was indicted on charges of violating the newly enacted Espionage Act for allegedly making disloyal remarks to two St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters. Although he was later acquitted, Weisberg’s organization dissolved because of the war hysteria.

The most tragic result of doughboy jingoism came just after midnight on April 5, 1918, when a drunken Collinsville, Ill. mob lynched Robert Paul Prager, a German immigrant and socialist whom they suspected of being a spy.

Words at War is on public display in the Mercantile Library reading room (on the sixth floor of the Boatmen’s Bank building, 510 Locust St.) through Sept. 8. Library hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday. A booklet describing the exhibition is for sale, and Cassens will give a tour and lecture on Wednesday, Aug. 28 at 5 p.m. For reservations, call 621-0670.

The Mayor’s Partner

Gerhard J. Petzall, a former law partner of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, was a director of Spectrulite Consortium Inc., which owned and operated an Eastside plant contaminated with radioactive waste.  After the problem came to light, the company forced its union work force to strike, filed for bankruptcy, and then reorganized under a different name, selling half the business to a foreign conglomerate. 

I collared outgoing St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay at the Earth Day celebration in Forest Park back in 2013 and asked him for a spot interview. He  told me then that he didn’t have time to go on camera for even a few minutes to talk about St. Louis’ longstanding radioactive waste problem.  He was too busy that sunny Sunday afternoon promoting some other well-intentioned environmental cause. It might have been recycling. As a result, the mayor does not appear in our documentary, The First Secret City.

But Richard Callow, the mayor’s longtime political consultant, does make a cameo appearance in the film. Aside from representing the mayor, Callow has also been a local spokesman for Republic Services, the giant waste disposal company that owns the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill Superfund site in North St. Louis County. In that role, Callow has acted to tamp down public concerns about the severity of the environmental and health problems related to the troubled landfill.

Callow, however,  is not the only link between the mayor and the radioactive waste that has plagued the region since it first began piling up as a byproduct of Mallinkcrodt Chemical’s work on the Manhattan Project.

As it turns out,  Gerhard J. Petzall — the mayor’s former law partner — has past ties to the now-defunct Spectrulite Consortium Inc., a company that owned a plant  in Madison, Illinois contaminated with radioactive waste from the Cold War.  Missouri incorporation records  show that Gerhard J. Petzall, a senior partner in the politically-connected law firm of Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake, sat on the board of directors of Spectrulite for years and continued  act as an attorney for the company until 2009.

By that time, Slay was in his second term as St. Louis mayor. Slay was a partner in Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake for 20 years prior to becoming mayor.

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The problems at Spectrulite began in 1957 when the foundry was owned by Dow Chemical Co. Dow processed uranium at the plant between 1957 and 1961 under a subcontract with St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Chemical Co., which was working for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Dow’s work caused radioactive debris to accumulate on overhead girders — where it was ignored for decades. In 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw a partial radioactive cleanup at the Spectrulite plant.

The Department of Energy conducted the first radiological testing at the facility in March 1989, which showed elevated levels of Uranium-238 and Thorium-232. A story published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the previous month had spurred the government to do the testing. The story was based  in part on the earlier research of Kay Drey. In 1979, the St. Louis environmental activist had interviewed a terminally-ill truck driver who had delivered uranium ingots from Mallinckrodt Chemical in North St. Louis to the Dow plant in Madison. The truck driver attributed his lung cancer to his occupational exposure to radiation in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The plant at Weaver and College streets operates today as Magnesium Elektron of North America, a non-union company and a subsidiary of Luxfur Group of Great Britain. After going bankrupt in 2003,  Spectrulite’s owners sold the company, but continue to hold a stake in the operation and the property itself.

Oddly enough, Spectrulite  remained an active corporation in Missouri — with Petzall’s name appearing in its annual reports long after the business had filed for bankruptcy in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill.  The records show that Petzall continued to be listed as a director of the corporation until 2003, and his name still appeared as a counsel for the by-then non-existent company until 2009.  Spectrulite never operated its manufacturing plant in Missouri. The plant was located across the river in Illinois. But the bankrupt, Illinois-based company, which had been sold to a foreign concern, remained an active corporation in Missouri for six years after its apparent demise; proof that there is life after death at least in the legal world.

Mayor Slay leaves office next week, after serving an unprecedented four terms.  Petzall, the mayor’s legal mentor,  will celebrate his 86th birthday in June.

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.

Tangled Up in Wildwood

Suburban builders plan to construct dozens of pricey houses on former hazardous-waste sites

first published in the Riverfront Times  (St. Louis) June 23, 1999, Wednesday

by C.D. Stelzer

The rugged land has resisted development for a long time, so a rural atmosphere still clings to these verdant hills, despite the encroachment of affluent subdivisions on the remaining ridgetop farms. But it would be wrong to think that nature has only now come under attack in this part of West St. Louis County.

Just off Strecker Road, in the gully washes that feed into Caulks Creek, the first of thousands of barrels of toxic waste were discovered nearly 19 years ago. The initial unearthing of the contaminated caches led one state environmental official to say at the time, “People move out here to escape pollution. This is where you find it, though.”

Eventually several hazardous-waste sites would be identified in the area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The federal agency would refer to them collectively as the “Bliss-Ellisville” site.

The first half of the name refers to Russell M. Bliss, the waste hauler responsible for dumping the pollutants. Bliss’ son still lives on a Strecker Road property once owned by his father, from which the EPA only a few years ago finally removed more than 900 truckloads of dioxin-contaminated dirt in addition to an estimated 1,500-2,000 barrels of toxic chemicals. The haul included drums laden with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The second half of the site’s name is something of a misnomer, because the locations of the Bliss farm and the other hazardous-waste sites are all outside the Ellisville municipal limits. Nowadays, much to its chagrin, all of this tainted history falls under the jurisdiction of the city of Wildwood, which was incorporated in 1995.

Wildwood residents originally voted to approve the creation of the municipality to control development, thereby ensuring that greenspace would be preserved. Now the fledgling city faces a dilemma: Two developers are asking for zoning variances so that they can wedge dozens of high-priced houses on either side of Strecker Road — on parcels of land that were once part of the Bliss-Ellisville hazardous-waste site. The next meeting on the issue is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6, at Wildwood City Hall, 16962 Manchester Rd.

The requests to develop these two properties have dredged up a litany of questions that have never been adequately answered by EPA officials or by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Those same officials are now siding with the developers, claiming that the once highly contaminated land is no longer a threat to human health, that it is now safe enough for backyard swingsets and tomato patches.

If the city allows W.J. Byrne Builders Inc. to build Strecker Forest, 31 houses will be constructed on the 18.5-acre tract. As things stand, Byrne Builders holds an option to buy the land from its current owners, Gerald and Patricia Primm. The couple’s property is adjacent to the Bliss farm. An early EPA investigation found portions of the Primm property and three other adjacent parcels to be contaminated.

On the other side of the road, at 210 Strecker Rd., developer Larry Wurm of James Properties Inc. is proposing to build Wildwood Ridge, an 11-home development on 7.6 acres of land now owned by Jean Callahan. Her husband, Grover Callahan, worked as a truck driver for the Bliss Waste Oil Co. in the early 1970s. Before Times Beach — the most notorious of the sites contaminated by Bliss — became a household word, the EPA had already rated the Callahan property one of the most contaminated hazardous-waste sites in the nation. Although the state hastened to dispose of hundreds of barrels at the Callahan site in the early 1980s, the EPA did not close its case on the property until last September.

Wildwood currently zones the Strecker Road properties as “nonurban,” which requires a minimum lot size of 3 acres. When considering deviations from the existing zoning code, the city takes into account several factors, such as the availability of utility services, topography and road conditions, but nothing on the municipal books deals with building houses on top of former hazardous-waste sites.

“It’s a difficult position for the city,” says Joe Vujnich, Wildwood’s director of parks and planning. “We do not have the expertise that the U.S. EPA and Missouri Department of Natural Resources have. Obviously I have to depend upon them to do their job and hope that we do ours.”

Among those who doubt the EPA’s blanket endorsement is Tammy Shea, a Wildwood resident. “If they’re going to develop the Callahan property, then we need to know exactly what took place there. The version that the developer presented to Wildwood is pretty vague about what happened,” Shea says. “It’s very confusing, the fact that they’ve kind of lumped these properties together yet dealt with them differently. Why were they in such a hurry to clean up the Callahan site? They were in there in 1981, pulling out barrels and treating them differently from the rest of the waste. They didn’t take the barrels from the Bliss farm until 1996, when the incinerator was here. So why were they in such a rush to get the barrels off the Callahan property?” asks Shea.

As for developer Wurm, he believes the Callahan property has been cleaned up, but he’s counting on the findings of state and federal regulators to protect him against any future liability.

“It’s no problem. It’s clean as a whistle,” says Wurm of the Callahan property. “It’s clean as a whistle,” he repeats. “Look at the record of decision. I’ve got letters from EPA and DNR also stating that everything is cool on the property.” But Wurm says he doesn’t want to discuss the project in detail, fearing his plans will be misrepresented. “When I talked with the (St. Louis) Post-Dispatch, I got misquoted. It was an abortion. So I’ll just let the record of decision stand for itself, OK? Tom What’s-his-face at the Post-Dispatch, he didn’t have time. He didn’t want to look at all this shit. And blah, blah, blah. You got to do your homework on these pieces, otherwise you’re wasting your time.

“Nothing against journalists — some of them are my best friends,” Wurm adds.

Wurm is referring to Tom Uhlenbrock, who first reported the Wildwood development plans in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 11. Asked about Wurm’s criticism, Uhlenbrock says the developer was “bent out of shape because he wanted the article to say that the Callahan property never had any dioxin or Russell Bliss on it.” Uhlenbrock said he was unable to confirm whether dioxin had been found on the site or whether there was a Bliss connection to the property.

In 1994, the Post-Dispatch reported a dispute involving homebuyers in Turnberry Place subdivision, which abuts the Bliss farm. The buyers said they signed sales contracts without being told by their real-estate agents that their new homes were adjacent to a hazardous-waste site. Seven families sued the responsible Realtor, and they were awarded a cumulative settlement of more than $500,000. If the city approves their respective developments, Wurm and Byrne hope to avoid this legal pitfall by having buyers sign a disclosure form saying that they were told in advance of the land’s history.

The full history of the Callahan site and the others in the Caulks Creek watershed remains something of an enigma. Contacted by phone last Friday at EPA headquarters in Kansas City, Martha Steincamp, regional counsel for the EPA, could not provide details on the Bliss-Ellisville cleanups and referred all questions on the matter to Bob Feild, the agency’s project manager. Feild did not return phone calls.

From publicly released EPA documents, this much is known: In the winter of 1981-1982, the DNR and EPA excavated more than 1,200 barrels of toxic waste from the Callahan property. The cleanup crew immediately sent 592 drums to a landfill in Wright City, Mo., but more than 600 barrels were stored on-site, along with 500 cubic yards of soil. The EPA removed the remaining barrels in July 1983. The agency then backfilled the hole with the same soil that had been stored at the site. A Post-Dispatch story dated April 4, 1983, describes the 500 cubic yards of soil stored at the Callahan site as being “contaminated.”

A later EPA inspection showed that the land had subsequently subsided and would require stabilization. Despite evidence of erosion, the EPA’s investigation concluded that the “fill area of the Callahan subsite was not contaminated (and) that the original objectives of the remedial action had either been achieved through natural processes, or were no longer considered necessary due to the preference expressed by the site owner.”

Aside from groundwater contamination, the most serious threat to human health posed by the contamination at the Callahan site was airborne migration, according to the EPA. It would be better to err on the side of safety, says Shea, than risk exposing people to more hazardous waste by digging foundations on the Callahan property and inadvertently excavating a heretofore undetected layer of toxic waste. “I believe that the whole area there is littered with contamination pockets,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just best to leave well enough alone.”

Shea is being dismissed as an alarmist. Wildwood city officials have questioned her credentials, and she says a real-estate agent recently criticized the motives behind her activism. In both instances, the allegations were not based so much on environmental concerns as they were on the bottom line.

“I guess Wildwood is just going to have to look at it from a credibility standpoint,” says Shea. “What I’m going to ask is that they provide the citizens with some level of accountability, because we certainly aren’t getting it from the EPA and we shouldn’t have to depend on the developer to provide it.”

By the EPA’s count, the Bliss-Ellisville site contained at least seven separate waste-disposal locations. Sewer workers discovered the first batch of barrels on the property of the Rosalie Investment Co., near the intersection of Strecker and Clayton roads, in July 1980. The Callahan dump was discovered in August of that year.

Callahan started working for Bliss in the early 1970s, which would have been around the same time Bliss started hauling hazardous waste. After the discovery of the waste a decade later, Callahan testified in St. Louis County Circuit Court that he had used a lift truck to dump drums of waste, which Bliss had picked up at local industries, on the Callahan property. DNR officials described the location of the dump as a ravine, filled 15 feet deep with rusty barrels.

Three parties — Jean Callahan, Kisco Co. and Bliss — refused to pay for the cleanup. By 1982, the Missouri attorney general’s office had entered negotiations with two other firms, American Can and GK Technologies. Ultimately, the state accepted $94,000 in 1988 as its part of a $660,000 settlement with several companies, a fraction of the estimated overall cleanup cost.

The biggest fish appears to have either slipped off or broken the line, however. In September 1980, Gov. Joseph P. Teasdale wrote a letter to Monsanto chairman John W. Hanley, requesting that the St. Louis-based chemical company pay for the cleanup. In his bid for re-election that year, Teasdale also made a campaign stop at the Bliss-Ellisville site to again ask for Monsanto’s assistance. This time Teasdale made the plea with the TV news cameras rolling. Monsanto refused to consider the governor’s appeal, even though before a federal ban on the chemical the company had been the sole producer of PCBs in North America.

SHOT IN THE DARK: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Uses a Corporate Photo to Promote the Safety of the Controversial Times Beach Dioxin Incinerator

April 20, 1994

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. But photographs don’t always tell the whole story. Take one that appeared in Saturday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for example.
 
The aerial shot is prominently displayed at the tip of page 1 of section B. It shows the levee constructed around the proposed dioxin incinerator at Times Beach surrounded by water. The cutline states that “the water did not top the levee.,” which is the gist of the accompanying story. There is no credit line — no indication of who snapped the shutter or for whom.
 
When Steve Taylor called the Post photo desk Saturday morning to inquire about the photo, he was told that it was taken by freelance photographer Bill Stover. Taylor is a member of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG), and as such was recently arrested for trespassing at the cleanup site during a demonstration against the planned incinerator.

 
Taylor then called Stover and politely asked him who commissioned the photograph. Taylor says Stover told him he was not at liberty to divulge his clients. When the RFT called the photographer on Sunday afternoon he had a lapse of memory. He couldn’t remember the specific photograph even though it was taken only a few days before. “I don’t know what photograph you’re talking about,” said Stover. “What I do for my business is my business,” he added.

 
Monday, the Post-Dispatch staff was a little more cooperative. The photo, it seems, was paid for and provided to the newspaper by Agribusiness Technologies Inc., according to Post photographer Gary Bohn. Agribusiness is a subsidiary of Syntex Inc., a giant pharmaceutical and chemical conglomerate that has been held liable by the EPA for the $116 million cleanup at Times Beach.

 
Gary Pendergrass, a spokesman for Agribusiness, says Agribusiness “took the pictures for our own documentation. … We just want to get the facts out.” But Agribusiness has more than a casual interest in the Times Beach dioxin incinerator. The preparations for the levee have been going on for years, as have the image problems associated with the cleanup. although federal and state agencies have given the green light, environmentalists and local elected officials are still objecting to the incinerator. Citizens of St. Louis County also voted against the construction of the incinerator in a non-binding election in 1990.
Besides all these public-relations problems, the planned incinerator would be located in a floodplain, one inundated previously. That’s why last week’s deluge offered Agribusiness such a positive media opportunity. What better way to prove the strength of their levee than trough providing photographs of it withstanding an Act of God? And who better to bear the Good News than the Post-Dispatch.

 
Bohn, the Post photographer, attributed the missing credit line to simple deadline pressure. Tom Uhlenbrock, the Pst environmental reporter who wrote the accompanying story, says the story was justified because of concerns over whether the levee could hold against such a big flood.

 
In a phone interview Monday, Uhlenbrock said that he inspected the levee early last week, and that he was told at that time that the company picture had been taken the day before. When reminded that his story didn’t run until Saturday, he corrected himself and said that he went to the site on Friday. The crest of the flood peaked on Thursday, which is when the photograph was allegedly taken, according to Uhlenbrock and Pendergrass. A for the helicopter service chartered by Agribusiness verified that the photograph was taken on Thursday.

 
But the cutline states that it was taken on Friday. The date is cortical to the accuracy of the photo because of the fluctuating river levels during the flood. The Meramec crested at 38.4 feet at Eureka on thursday, according to the National Weather Service. By Friday, it had dropped to 34.1. Earlier in the week the river was significantly lower.

 
Besides timing and attribution, the subject of ethics apparently never entered the picture, either. Uhlenbrock says printing company photographs “is not an unusual practice. We do that quite often..”

 
Bohn, the photographer, is in limited agreement. Using corporate photos is “not a common practice, but when it does help tell the story we accept photographs like that, says Bohn. “Our intent is not to make judgments on whether something’s ethical or not. Our intent is to tell the story in an objective way.”

 
Taylor doesn’t believe the Post’s actions were objective. “Pictures don’t lie,” says Taylor. “But you can lie about pictures. I want to emphasize that the floodplain is no the major issue. The major issue is corporate accountability and the whole question about the safety of incinerators in the first place.”

 
Taylor does see something else in the picture., however, something more subtle than a missing credit line. He sees the photo as a representation of the coverage the Post-Dispatch has chosen to provide on the dioxin issue. “I think it’s highly unethical that they would run a corporate photo with a credit line.”

First published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis)

–C.D. Stelzer (stlreporter@gmail.com)