Updated 1:40 p.m. with a copy of the indictment.
Mayor Sylvester Caldwell of Pine Lawn, the tiny north-county town just southeast of Ferguson, was arrested on Thursday by the FBI, according to the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Missouri. He's been charged with extortion which could carry a penalty of up to twenty years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
The charges center on an alleged bribery scheme, where a tow-truck company owner paid Caldwell for the privilege of hauling away vehicles identified for towing by the Pine Lawn Police Department. The case was investigated by the FBI.
Caldwell is the second mayor of a north St. Louis County municipality to be indicted in recent years following an FBI investigation. In 2011, Keith Conway, the then-mayor of nearby Kinloch, was charged with theft and wire fraud for stealing funds from his city and sentenced to 21 months in prison.
Update: Caldwell allegedly took bribes from "John Doe," the owner of a local tow-truck company, between December 2013 and April 11, 2014. According to the indictment, the Pine Lawn Police Department deferred to the mayor's wishes when it came to which company it used for towing services, jumps and repairs to squad cars. "Defendant Caldwell, either directly or through other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, threatened to stop using John Doe's company to town vehicles for Pine Lawn, and threatened to and did use a different towing company for such purposes," says court documents.
But by far the most entertaining allegation in the indictment is the way that Caldwell allegedly collected his payoffs. Here's how he obtained $300 from "John Doe," at a Phillips 66 gas station on December 20, 2013 (emphasis ours):
Defendant Caldwell: I want a cup of Mountain Dew, uh, full of foam, two times for the Rams (hold up two fingers). Altogether (holds up four fingers).
John Doe: I don't have that. I got like three on me. Alright, you want a cup of Mountain Dew?
Defendant Caldwell: Yeah, a cup of Mountain Dew, man.
John Doe: Alright, I'll be right back.
John Doe the retrieved a bottle of Mountain Dew inside the gas station and brought it back to Defendant Caldwell. The conversation continued as follows:
Defendant Caldwell: Hey, why didn't you, why didn't you put my Mountain Dew in a cup? I like my shit in a cup.
John Doe: Aw, come on. What's the difference?
Defendant Caldwell: That's the way I like it, in a cup. Now go get me one and put it in a cup.
John Doe: You want ice in there, too?
Defendant Caldwell: Nope.
John Doe: Just a cup?
Defendant Caldwell: Yeah, I just like, I just like the green Mountain Dew in the cup.
John Doe: Okay.
John Doe then entered the Phillips 66 gas station, placed $300 in cash inside a disposable cup, returned to the parking lot, and handed Defendant Caldwell the disposable cup.
Caldwell then allegedly told John Doe "Mountain Dew, Monday," meaning he expected another payment that coming Monday.
The indictment also says a $200 payoff took place at a laundromat, and another $300 "Mountain Dew" bribe was exchanged at the gas station in January. In another snippet of transcript, Caldwell told John Doe that he was taking the city's business to another towing company "until you learn to grow up." Doe assuaged Caldwell with a $500 payoff at a restaurant, with the agreement he'd continue to fork over $300 every month. It's not clear from the document how these transcripts were obtained.
Caldwell bonded out yesterday afternoon. We left messages with his office and the Pine Lawn city administrator and will update if we hear back. Read the entire -- highly entertaining -- indictment below:
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