Update below: Two St. Louis parks officials allegedly stole around half a million dollars from the city by submitting false invoices since 2005, according to a federal indictment announced this morning.
Joseph Vacca, deputy commissioner of the St. Louis Parks Division, and Thomas Stritzel, chief of the St. Louis park rangers, are "expected to turn themselves in to authorities this week," according to the U.S. attorney's office.
"The city has moved forward to place both these men on immediate, forced, unpaid leave while we work through the disciplinary hearings," Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, tells Daily RFT. "If the allegations are true, they deserve everything they get for betraying the public trust."
The federal grand jury indictment alleges that from January 2005 to December of last year, the two officials embezzled funds from the city through sham invoices, which included false charges of around $464,722. The announcement of the indictment says:
They used the funds for their own personal use, including lease payments on personal vehicles, fuel costs, the payment of personal credit card charges, and other personal living expenses unrelated to the legitimate operations of the St. Louis Parks Division.
They did so, authorities say, by setting up a sham company called Dynamic Management, where they funneled city funds. They then used these fraudulently obtained funds for their own personal use, the indictment says.
"Taxpayers were slapped in the face when roughly half a million dollars was allegedly embezzled from City of St. Louis funds allocated to the Parks Department," Dean Bryant, head of the FBI's St. Louis office, says in a statement. "The cooperation from the City of St. Louis enabled the FBI to uncover the multiple fraudulent schemes."
Crane tells us that the FBI alerted city officials to its investigation and asked them to hold off on any internal investigation or disciplinary action until the FBI's process was completed.
As soon as the city was able, it launched its own disciplinary process this week, she says.
This was a complete surprise to the mayor and other officials, she adds.
"We'll be looking at how this happened to minimize any risk of it ever happening again," she says.
If convicted, each of these charges carries a maximum penalty of twenty years in prison and possibly fines up to $250,000.
The two could not be reached for comment this morning.
Update, 4:30 p.m.: Daily RFT reached Lawyer Scott Rosenblum, representing Stritzel, who says that his client is turning himself in and will be released on bond.
"There will be an arraignment down the road," he says, adding that he has been in discussion with the Assistant United States Attorney handling this case for several months.
"I'm not in a position to comment on the allegations," he says.
Here's a copy of the indictment (h/t):