House of cards could fall with Ellis indictment

Steve Gonzalez Jan. 21, 2005, 10:42am

US Attorney of the Southern District of Illinois Ronald J. Tenpas annouces charges handed down by the grand jury

Kelvin Ellis

"Public office is a public trust, in turn public office confers on those who hold it, the highest obligations to obey the law," United States Attorney Ronald J. Tenpas stated as he announced the indictments of East St. Louis public officials on Jan. 21.

According to some observers, the "house of cards" that courts corruption in East St. Louis is about to fall.

East St. Louis police chief Ronald Matthews, 55, of East St. Louis, Ayoub S. Qattoum 40, of Belleville, and Janerra Carson-Slaughter, 28, of East St. Louis, were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.

Another swipe was aimed at the city's director of Regulatory Affairs, Kelvin Ellis, 55, of East St. Louis, a convicted felon who was accused of obstruction of justice and filing false tax returns.

The indictment claims that Ellis attempted to obstruct a grand jury investigation regarding potential election fraud and other possible criminal investigations and sought to have a federal witness discredited by placing drugs on the witness, and later sought to have the witness killed.

Ellis is charged with four counts of obstruction of justice between Oct. 5, 2004, and Nov. 24, 2004.

He also was charged with four counts of attempting to evade and defeat the assesment of income tax and filing false returns.

"The indictments unveiled today are the product of multi-agency public corruption task force that includes the FBI, IRS, Postal Inspection Service and the Illinois State Police, in addition the Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement played a significant role although not a formal member of the task force," Tenpas said.

"The citizens of East St. Louis are entitled to public officials who respect and uphold the rule of law," said Tenpas.

James Ingram, a columnist with the St. Louis American and East St. Louisan and observer of the city's power structure, wrote:

"Ex-con and Department of Regulatory Affairs Director Kelvin Ellis will return to prison, because he was too arrogant and/or dumb to learn that "crime doesn't pay" his FIRST time around the prison yard!"

Ingram's column appeared in the paper's Jan. 18 edition--three days before the indictments were announced.

"Last June, I predicted that, within one year, ESL would be minus a few "big-wigs," based upon their overzealous political maneuverings and dealings," Ingram states.

"Six months later, we find ESL in the midst of a major grand jury investigation into voter fraud, with ESL Democratic machine honcho Charlie Powell, Dept. of Regulatory Affairs head (and ex-con) Kelvin Ellis and a host of assorted precinct committeemen facing possible indictment and federal prison time."

Post Election

Even though closer than usual scrutiny was paid to fair elections in East St. Louis in the weeks before the last general election, Nov. 2, the outcome of the county board chairman's race only reignited claims of voter fraud.

Former Illinois Republican Chairman Judy Baar Topinka visited the city before the election to point out irregularities, such as the fact that there are more registered voters in the city than there are adults.

Post-election, voting integrity questions arose over the board chairman race between Democrat Mark Kern and Republican Steve Reeb.

"Reeb's loss did more for St. Clair County than if had he won the county chairman's race," remarked St. Clair County Repubican Joe Behnken, a former county board member, after a grand jury was formed to investigate voter fraud in East St. Louis.

Kern defeated Reeb 56,708 to 52,729.

Kern, who was mayor of Belleville, lost the overall vote outside East St. Louis, including his hometown. Reeb garnered 52 percent of the vote to Kern's 48 percent. But in East St. Louis, Kern captured 83 percent of the vote, overcoming Reeb 10,153 to 2,120 votes.

In the week before the general election, more than $90,000 poured into the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee--primarily from local and regional candidates. For instance, on Nov. 1 Kern gave $37,100; Gordon Maag, $4,500; the Simmons Firm of East Alton, $5,000; John Baricevic, former St. Clair County Board Chairman running for circuit judge, $10,000; Jennifer Gomric Minton, $4,500; Kolka Law Offices, $760; Wyvetter Younge, $4,526; Bill Haine, $760; Mike Costello, $11,500 and Barney Metz, $11,360.74.

During the general election cycle, Kern gave the party more than $170,000.

In contrast, the St. Clair County Republican Central Committee raised only $28,015 in the four month period leading up to the election.

Behnken, who was a poll watcher in East St. Louis' 35th precinct, said he meticulously counted each voter--331--who came to the polls. There were nine absentee ballots, bringing total votes to 340 in the precinct. But, according to the East St. Louis Board of Elections, 360 votes were cast in the 35th precinct.

Ballots are not fed into counting machines at the polls, according to Behnken. Rather, they are taken to the Board of Elections office where ballots are fed into the machine with a shield that could potentially conceal multiple ballots.

“You don’t know how many they might stuff at once," Behnken said.

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