St. Louis County employee indicted for pandemic relief kickback scheme

St. Louis County employee indicted for pandemic relief kickback scheme

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Federal prosecutors have charged a St. Louis County jail administrator and previous County Council legislative assistant with federal wire charges in a COVID-19 relief kickback scheme. 

Tony Weaver, 63, was indicted Tuesday for allegedly hatching a scheme to fraudulently obtain pandemic relief funds for a local business person in exchange for a share of the proceeds. 

Weaver pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday.

County Executive Sam Page, who hired Weaver as a “change management coordinator” for the Department of Justice Services in 2019, fired Weaver the same day after the charges became public. Weaver previously worked for former 4th District Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray as an administrative assistant and was an appointee to the county Charter Commission in 2019. 

“That sort of behavior will never be tolerated in county government,” Page said at a media briefing Wednesday. “I am happy to hear that the process that we put into place stopped any plan or scheme to file false applications with the county and to defraud the county government of COVID funds.” 

The indictment alleges that, in May 2020, Weaver approached a St. Louis County business owner, identified in the indictment as “John Smith,” with a plan to fraudulently apply for grants from the county’s Small Business Relief program. The program granted federal CARES Act money to small businesses that were closed due to stay-at-home orders during the height of the pandemic.

The indictment says Weaver told the business owner that his former boss on the council, identified only as Jane Doe, “needed to know the names of Smith’s businesses as she made the final decision.” Weaver also told Smith that her office would “do what I tell them to do.” 

According to the indictment, Smith owned a mechanic shop, a laundromat, a supermarket, a gas station and a construction company. Weaver filled out applications for four SBR loans on behalf of Smith’s businesses, claiming falsely that they were closed during the pandemic. 

The indictment says that the pair agreed to split any resulting money on multiple occasions, and discussed ways to avoid getting caught. Weaver warned Smith not to use checks or political donations to pay kickbacks, and not to use his cellphone to submit grant applications. 

The indictment quotes Weaver telling Smith, “I hope this place is not bugged … that’s how (former St. Louis County Executive Steve) Stenger got caught.” 

Smith’s applications were not approved, but Weaver told him he could try again with the next round of funding, the indictment says. 

The indictment also alleges Weaver helped 10 other businesses apply for grants, but only two agreed to the kickback scheme.

Only one grant application that Weaver helped with was successful. According to the indictment, Weaver complained to Smith he was paid only $300 for his help. 

Weaver faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith is prosecuting the case. Goldsmith is the same attorney who prosecuted Stenger and other associates in 2019 for a pay-to-play scheme involving trading political favors for campaign donations.