st. louis post-dispatch

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.

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.”

 

 

Tony Messenger’s BFF

Pulitzer-Prize Winner Tony Messenger blurred the lines between the editorial page and the newsroom in 2015 and lived. Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich wasn’t so lucky.

On page 13A of the Feb. 27, 2015 edition, Tony Messenger, then the editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, began his tribute to the late Tom Schweich by referring to him as his BFF,  an acronym that stands for “best friends forever.” In the next sentence and several that followed, Messenger made clear that he was not really Schweich’s best friend, and that the label was used by his fellow editorial writers to sarcastically allude to his relationship with the state auditor and Republican gubernatorial candidate. As Messenger explained it, the BFF reference was an inside joke.  

Messenger penned his tribute, which began with that disparagement, less than 24 hours after Schweich had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a hand gun. Messenger then went on to explain the reason why Schweich was jokingly referred to as his BFF. It was because Schweich exhibited a naivete unusual in a politician. He truly considered Messenger to be his confidante. Schweich spoke to Messenger openly about his political and personal troubles. Messenger listened. But it’s clear from Messenger’s account that he did not share the Schweich’s illusion of friendship. Schweich was more a source than a friend to Messenger. He cultivated the relationship to gain inside information from Schweich beginning in 2010 when he was a reporter for another newspaper in Jefferson City, the Missouri state capital.

Immediately prior to his suicide, Schweich had confided in Messenger, telling him about the problems he was encountering related to his Republican gubernatorial bid.  Rumors were allegedly being circulated against him by John Hancock, the then-chairman of the state Republican Party. The allegations revolved around Schweich’s religious background. According to Messenger’s account, Schweich believed Hancock was falsely telling Republicans that Schweich was Jewish in an effort to undercut his gubernatorial candidacy.

In his homage, Messenger wrote that after Schweich committed suicide Messenger felt compelled to do what he had never done before as a reporter: He revealed the substance of off-the-record conversations with a source. The problem with Messenger’s confession is that he was not a reporter any longer when this breech of ethics occurred. He was the editorial page editor. Editorial writers are not reporters. They adhere to a different set of rules than those followed in the newsroom. They must remain detached and above the fray, otherwise they risk destroying their credibility and independence by miring themselves in conflicts of interests and charges of bias and deceit. In short, an editorial writer should never have been talking off-the-record to a public official, especially one involved in a heated election race.

In this case, the conflict is that Messenger was milking a confidential source for inside political information when he was not a reporter. Moreover, he knew that Schweich was having serious emotional and mental problems, but he continued the relationship despite all of this, feigning friendship. He was in charge of setting the editorial position of the newspaper and shaping public opinion, while continuing to maintain an off-the-record source — as if he were still a reporter. He was not a reporter, however. Nonetheless, Messenger still referred to himself in the aftermath of the Schweich suicide as a “reporter.”

The other problem with Messenger’s confused role in this tragedy is that he apparently communicated some facet of confidential information he had received off-the-record from Schweich to the newsroom staff, from which he was supposed to be separated as an opinion writer. A reporter was subsequently sent to interview Schweich, but Schweich killed himself before the reporter arrived.

Messenger had broken the firewall between the editorial page and the newsroom.

Was  Messenger sacked, suspended or even mildly reprimanded for these violations of journalistic standards? No, he was rewarded and given a column. Last year, he  won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary and there was much celebrating in the newsroom to which he had returned. Schweich’s death wasn’t on anybody’s mind during the celebration. The circumstances of Schweich’s death would have been largely forgotten had not Tony Messenger himself duly chronicled his involvement to readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

At 9:41 a.m., Feb. 26, 2015, seven-minutes before police were called to Schweich’s house after he shot himself, Tony Messenger acknowledged receiving a call on his cell phone from a distraught Tom Schweich, but Messenger ignored the call. He didn’t pick it up. Schweich left him a voice mail message. Referring to that final message from his “BFF,” Messenger ended his tribute to Schweich the day after the state auditor’s suicide with this comment: “I think I’ll keep it.”

Did he?

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 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 later changed his decision andpleaded 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.