Convictions in vote fraud trial would send strong signal

Ann Knef Jun. 3, 2005, 4:15am

Steve Reeb

Lifeling East St. Louisan and harsh critic of city government corruption, writer James Ingram said convictions in the federal vote-buying trial currently under way in his hometown will send a clear message.

"A conviction of (East St. Louis Democrat head Charlie) Powell and former Department of Regulatory Affairs chief, Kelvin Ellis will send the signal that politics as usual will no longer be tolerated in East St. Louis," said Ingram.

"A 'not guilty' verdict will be a major setback and undermine months of efforts by the government and the citizens of East St. Louis to finally end the political regime of Charlie Powell and his political sycophants," he said.

Ingram is a columnist for the St. Louis American and regularly takes aim at East St. Louis leadership. He recently opined about a string of abuses--from $200,000 missing Community Development Block Grant funds to the sentencing of convicted felon Phil Cohn.

"So, as one scandal concludes another is revealed, begging the question: who's REALLY watching the store in East St. Louis?

"To heck with Star Wars III. I'm taking my popcorn and Kool Aid to the courthouse. Folks, it's going to be a long, suspenseful summer, legally," Ingram wrote in a June 2 St. Louis American column.

St. Clair County Board Member Steve Reeb, who lost his bid for county chairman to Mark Kern in November, sat in on the vote-buying trial Thursday. At issue in the trial: East St. Louis Democrats are accused of buying votes in the last general election.

Reeb, whose election defeat was decided by East St. Louis results, said his interest in the trial is justice for voters.

"I'd just like to see the system fixed," said Reeb.

Kern has been implicated by witnesses in the $10-a-vote scandal.

"I still get calls, maybe one, two, three a day, people asking me, 'what does this mean?' Is there going to be a special election?" said Reeb.

"If Kern is indicted who would put pressure on him to resign?" Reeb asked.

Former St. Clair County Board Member Joe Behnken said statements revealed in secretly taped meetings between East St. Louis and county Democrat leaders during the trial showed "brazen audacity."

Kern reportedly remarked that people who could be controlled needed to be appointed to certain public offices.

"The local Democrats act like one-eyed kings in the valley of the blind," Behnken said.

"The only way this type of criminal action (vote buying) is going to stop is if you go to the source of the money," Behnken said. "The source of the money is coming from somewhere outside of East St. Louis. That's where the investigation should go--to the source of it."

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