07/22/2006

Four Mo. ex-deputies are indicted in bribery case

By Peter Shinkle, Bill Lhotka of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.

Four former St. Louis County deputy sheriffs were indicted on charges that they took bribes from moving companies in return for favorable treatment in enforcing court-ordered evictions, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

The former deputies are accused of taking thousands of dollars from moving companies hired by landlords to remove tenants who have failed to pay rent or who have damaged property. All four deputies have resigned, prosecutors said.

The indictments, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, accuse the deputies of taking the payments to give one mover's eviction order priority over other eviction orders.

"Due to the course of conduct followed by these deputies, a commercial mover which stopped making cash payments risked losing a competitive advantage to other movers who complied with the practice," the indictments say. "The commercial movers made the payments in order to remain competitive and, if possible, gain an edge on the competing businesses."

The former deputies charged are Curley Hines, 78, of the 100 block of East Rose Hill in St. Louis; David Rodriguez, 51, of the 7100 block of Sutherland Avenue in St. Louis; Marcus G. Lipe, 64, of Sparrow Court in O'Fallon, Mo.; and Richard Robinson, 60, of Hambletonian Street in Florissant.

Hines is charged with seven felony counts of receiving bribes. Each of the other three defendants is charged with six counts of the same crime. The offense carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

"Graft at any level of government corrupts both the public official and the person who pays that official," U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway said in a news release. "That these deputies took money while acting with the badge of authority makes it all the worse."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Crowe, the prosecutor on the case, said the moving companies typically paid the deputy $20 for each eviction scheduled, and the larger sums cited in the indictments were for multiple evictions.

Crowe said the eviction orders were all lawful. The victim in this case was the public because the bribery scheme undermined the integrity of county government, he said.

Unlike in other counties in Missouri, deputies in St. Louis County have no arrest powers. They provide process service in civil cases or serve as court bailiffs.

The indictments say that the moving companies that made the payments included Landlords Moving Service, Independent Eviction Agency and New Star Enterprises. None of the companies could be reached for comment.

The indictments say the four deputies took the payments in a period from June 2003 to March of this year. The indictments cite payments ranging from $60 to $300, although in some payments no specific dollar amount is cited, and each defendant is accused of taking "payments totaling thousands of dollars."

The indictment said that as part of their official duties, the deputies were assigned to enforce eviction orders, and they had authority to schedule when they would visit homes where the orders were to be enforced.

Paul D'Agrosa, attorney for Rodriguez, said he expects his client to enter a plea of not guilty. "We will be defending this case vigorously," he said. Rodriguez had served as a deputy sheriff since 1993, and before that served for 20 years in the military, D'Agrosa said.

Brad Kessler, attorney for Lipe, declined to comment. Attorneys for Hines and Robinson could not be reached for comment. Among the four defendants, Hines worked for the office the longest, 40 years.

Crowe, the prosecutor, said there was no evidence that any higher-ranking officers in the St. Louis County Sheriff's Department were aware of or condoned the bribery scheme.

Acting Sheriff Dan McHale said the federal probe resulted in changes in the way the sheriff's office handles enforcement of eviction orders. "The scheduling is now run out of the office, rather than from the field," he said. 
 
July 20, 2006

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