University City

Operation Tooth

When the Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information touted its $10,000 grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the public didn’t know the foundation was a CIA front.

first published at firstsecretcity.com

The announcement came at the second-annual meeting of the Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Safety at the Heman Park Community Center in University City, Mo. on May 8, 1960. More than 500 attendees heard the good news. Their organization had received a $10,000 grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund to pursue its laudable work.  It was cause for celebration. But they were unaware of one string attached to the generous gift, a nettlesome detail that may have dampened their enthusiasm that long ago spring evening: the Kaplan Fund was a CIA front.

Then as now there were ramped up concerns over an ongoing public health crisis. In 1960, the problem was the wind-driven dispersal of nuclear fallout. St. Louisans were  worried about the proliferation of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, and the potential health effects that atmospheric testing was having on their children. To address the issue, they enlisted leaders of the scientific community to study the effects of radiation. There was no reason for them to suspect that their local organization’s goals had been subverted. That possibility wasn’t on anybody’s radar back then.

It’s a question that’s remained unasked until now; a footnote to history that’s been buried in the First Secret City for 60 years.

The citizens’ committee, a coalition of parents, educators, medical professionals and scientists, had formed in 1959 to measure Strontium-90 levels by collecting the baby teeth of elementary school children in the St. Louis area and elsewhere.  The radioactive isotope, known to be present in nuclear fallout, concentrated in human bones and teeth, particularly growing children who consumed milk. Kids were encouraged by parents, teachers and dentists to give their teeth to science instead of the tooth fairy. In return, they were rewarded with a membership card and button to the Operation Tooth Club.  The program was called The Baby Tooth Survey. The director of the survey was Dr. Louise Reiss, and its scientific advisory board included Washington University biologist Barry Commoner.

The keynote speaker at the 1960 meeting of the committee was internationally renowned  anthropologist Margaret Mead, according to accounts published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Globe-Democrat. The same news accounts also reported the generous contribution from the J.M. Kaplan Fund of New York, which later would be revealed in congressional hearings to be a covert conduit for funneling CIA cash.

Margaret Mead

U.S. Rep. Wright Patman, a Texas Democrat, outed the private foundation’s ties to the CIA  at a hearing of his House Small Business Sub-committee on Aug. 31, 1964. In addition to the congressional probe, the Kaplan Fund was also under investigation by  the Internal Revenue Service, which confirmed the foundation’s ties to the CIA, according to a news story in the New York TimesJacob M. Kaplan, former head of Welch’s Grape Juice company and founder of the non-profit charity, had already garnered IRS attention for using the fund as a tax dodge. Patman’s hearings determined that the Kaplan Fund had been used as a CIA front  from 1959 to 1964.

U.S. Rep. Wright Patman (Texas-D)

It is uncertain whether the money donated to the St. Louis group was part of the CIA’s clandestine operations, but the agency’s extensive use of private foundations, including the Kaplan Fund, gained further exposure in subsequent investigative reports that appeared in the late 1960s in the Texas Observer, Nation, and Ramparts magazines.

Mead’s presence at the St. Louis meeting, where the the Kaplan Fund’s generosity was announced, is intriguing because of her previous involvement in espionage dating back to World War II, when she and then-husband Gregory Bateson,  also an anthropologist, produced propaganda in the South Pacific for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA.

Harold Abramson

In the early 1950s, Bateson tripped on LSD furnished to him by Dr. Harold Abramson, who was part of the agency’s top-secret MK-Ultra project, a program that experimented on the use of hallucinogenic drugs and other means to influence and control human behavior. After scoring more of the CIA’s acid, he turned on his friend Alan Ginsberg, the beat poet. Funding for Abramson’s LSD research was funneled through two other CIA cutouts: the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

In  late November 1953, Abramson — an allergist — acted as the unlicensed psychiatrist  of Frank Olson, shortly before the Army biological warfare scientist fell to his death from a 13th floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York City. Olson had received counseling from Abramson for anxiety and depression after being wired up on acid by the CIA.  While under the influence of the drug, Olson voiced ethical concerns about his germ warfare research to colleagues, which was considered a national security breach by the agency.  Abramson and Olson had previously worked on classified aerosol research at Camp Detrick, the Army’s chemical warfare research facility in Frederick, Maryland. Olson’s unsolved death is the subject of the 2017 Netflix series Wormwood by Errol Morris.

This false cover story, which appeared in the Post-Dispatch on June 23, 1953, hid real purpose of the Army’s aerosol testing in St. Louis.

Coincidentally, 1953 is also when the Army began its secret aerosol testing in St. Louis. Parsons Corporation ran that covert military operation out of an office in the 5500 block of Pershing Ave. in St. Louis. The tests involved the spraying of poor, inner-city neighborhoods without residents knowledge.  Workers who participated in the study were also kept in the dark. When the testing became known about decades later, the Army said it used zinc cadmium sulfate, which it claimed wasn’t harmful to human health. In the 1990s, former Parsons employees said they believed their cancers were caused by being exposed to the chemicals used in the tests. The EPA announced last year that Parsons Corporation was awarded the main contract for the clean-up of radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill site in St. Louis County. The contamination is from uranium processing conducted by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in St. Louis for the Manhattan Project.

The Baby Tooth survey, which began six years after the aerosol testing,  found a correlation between atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and Stontium-90 levels  in children’s teeth in the St. Louis area. But its scientific findings were in some ways eclipsed by the survey’s public relations successes.  Publicity garnered by the Baby Tooth Survey is credited with spurring the passage of the 1963 Nuclear Test Band Treaty between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

Frank Olson never made it home for Thanksgiving.

An earlier covert collaboration by the Atomic Energy Commission, Air Force and Rand Corporation to  measure Strontium-90 in humans received harsh criticism, after it was revealed that researchers obtained scientific data by snatching bodies. Beginning in 1953, Project Sunshine collected bone sample from cadavers, including those of stillborn babies.

Gathering scientific data by collecting the baby teeth of living children was deemed more acceptable and received unquestioning public cooperation.

South of the Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Treasures of the Sierra Madre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indifference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fourth Circle of Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aerial view of the sprawling home of James Redlingshafer Sr.

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

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