What if Better Together’s proposal had gone before the voters and been passed, as the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch urged voters to do? What if Steve Stenger had become the new unelected mayor of the expanded metro St. Louis, as Better Together proposed (and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson agreed, for reasons that are still difficult to comprehend)? What if William Miller had remained Stenger’s chief of staff, as Miller eventually told the FBI that Stenger had promised? What would that have looked like for racial equity in St. Louis?
Remember “racial equity”? That was the key buzzword of the Ferguson Commission and its report: that St. Louis needed to be reviewed and reformed using a “racial equity lens.”
Bill Miller remembered racial equity. Here he is talking the matter over with Stenger and Jeff Wagener (who had been Stenger’s chief of staff before he moved too slow to wrangle contracts for Stenger’s campaign donors via other arms of St. Louis County government).
The transcript of the wiretap is dated October 2, 2018. Bill Miller is live.
“When you have [Yaphett] El-Amin [Director of MOKAN] and [Adolphus] Pruitt [Director of City NAACP] and all those f---ers arguing about inclusion and equity and shit, I’m like, f---, forget it. Of course, I have sued El Amin’s father, Eddie Hasan, for failing to pay his printing bill…. He wanted to f--- with me one night when we were trying to work out payment of this bill…so he made me go down to their place, it’s the Argus, which is in the f---ing hood…. I saw first-hand what MOKAN was…I just f---ing can’t stand those people, I just think it’s a racket.”
This performance requires some unpacking for those who may not know all of the off-stage players.
Yaphett El-Amin directs MOKAN, which advocates for minority inclusion in the St. Louis building trades; previously she was a state legislator who advocated for minority inclusion statewide. Adolphus M. Pruitt uses his platform as president of the St. Louis NAACP to advocate for racial equity and justice – or, in the words of Stenger’s right-hand man, “inclusion and equity and shit.”
As a footnote, the Black Press makes an appearance in this transcript, which the Department of Justice reported in its sentencing memo for Miller. The Argus was a once-mighty local black weekly most recently owned by El Amin’s father, Eddie Hasan.
Ironically, Miller himself has newspaper ink in his blood. He was the heir apparent to a family newspaper publishing and printing business, the Missourian Publishing Company, when he got active in politics, starting a long slide down the plumbing from legal counsel to Governor Jay Nixon to administrative law judge to Stenger’s right-hand man (at a salary of $130,000) and now, perhaps, Stenger’s prison cell mate.
This man who said he hated the president of the St. Louis NAACP and one of the region’s most staunch minority inclusion advocates, a man who equated “inclusion and equity” with “shit,” almost became the second most powerful person in St. Louis government. Had Better Together and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board had their way, he would have.
As Miller stated on December 6, 2018 in another discussion with Stenger and Wagener: “Every advice I give you is to make sure you’re OK, because the election is over, but 2020’s coming.” The “election” was Stenger’s reelection as county executive. What was coming in 2020 would be Stenger’s ascension, with Miller right behind him, to leadership of the unified metro St. Louis government. We have a skilled federal prosecution to thank for saving us from that nightmarish fate.
The DOJ wants Miller to pay for his crimes in strong-arming other county employees to do Stenger’s bidding. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith, who led the prosecution, asked District Judge Rodney W. Sippel to sentence Miller within the federal guidelines of 15 to 21 months in prison. (Judge Catherine Perry sentenced Stenger to closer to four years.)
Goldsmith makes a strong case by showing how Stenger hand-picked Miller to replace Wagener when Wagener was not making enough rain fall on Stenger’s campaign donors. “As one executive at the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership put it when interviewed by the FBI, ‘Wagener would never threaten people the way Miller currently does,’” Goldsmith’s sentencing memo notes.
The transcripts also give us a glimpse of Miller’s art of the threat. It’s a chilling moment. Miller is coaching the (evidently wired and cooperating) Wagener and another Stenger staffer on how to get Sheila Sweeney, then the CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Agency, to go along with the pay-to-play scheme. They are preparing for a group meeting with Sweeney, where Miller felt the need to show restraint. However, Miller said on November 20, 2018, “If it was just me and her, in some dark room somewhere, I might make it a little bit more forceful.”
‘Happy gone’ for Krewson?
Hearing how Stenger and Miller talked about politics and power when they thought they were “in some dark room somewhere” has made many people wonder what those transcripts reveal about how they discussed St. Louis Lyda Krewson and her vanishing role in the metro St. Louis government that would have vastly empowered Stenger. We do get to hear Stenger talk about moving Sweeney out of the way in the Miller sentencing memo.
“We ought to work a real careful plan on getting Sheila gone and let her do something off into the sunset,” Stenger said to Miller and Wagener. “Maybe there’s a way to work it so she’s gone, and she’s happy gone…But she’s happy gone and not f---ing with us.”
One wonders: was there a “happy gone” worked out for Lyda Krewson under the Better Together scheme?
As much public interest as there may be in the volumes of covert recordings of Stenger and his minions, the DOJ generally does not use evidence it gathers publicly for anything other than the prosecution of cases, including pretrial hearings, trial, and sentencing. After all, a judge gave the DOJ permission to investigate specific crimes, not simply to eavesdrop indiscriminately. Also, the feds don't like to disclose investigative techniques – source of recordings, presence of telephone wiretap, which individuals were wearing wires, what offices and homes were bugged – which could be gleaned from the recordings.
So we may not never know whether Krewson had a “happy gone,” and if so what that was – unless there is some criminal element, in which case we may one day hear much more about it.
As for Miller, he is scheduled for sentencing this coming Friday, September 6 at 11 a.m. before District Judge Sippel. In arguing against the defense’s appeal to leniency because Miller was merely following orders, Goldsmith responds with an awe-inspiring two-punch combo citing the most notorious trials, literally, in the history of the world and the United States. “Such a defense was soundly rejected 70 years ago by the Court during the Nuremberg trials following World War II,” Goldsmith argues. “We can also look to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, where President Richard Nixon’s own Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, attempted such a defense, but was convicted and sent to federal prison for his criminal conduct.”
Alexander Butterfield hotline
Goldsmith reminded the court that Miller had other options. Miller could have done what Alexander Butterfield did as deputy assistant to Nixon when he blew the whistle. Now Stenger’s interim successor, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, wants everybody to be an Alexander Butterfield. On August 29, Page signed into law a bill that will set up a whistleblower hotline. The county’s director of Administration will now begin the process of hiring an outside company to operate a 24-hour hotline and allow for tips via phone, fax or email.