U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan sentenced former East St. Louis detective Orlando Ward as gently as he could for conspiring to distribute cocaine, yet he reasoned that his action would deter others from committing crimes.
Reagan seized the occasion of Ward’s sentencing, on May 9, to portray him as one more figure in a long line of corrupt public officials in East St. Louis and around it.
Reagan’s 38 page memorandum set forth a history of officials who embezzled and stole money, extorted favors, took bribes, and rigged elections.
“To be clear, the court does not place at the feet of Mr. Ward the woes of the Metro-East area described in this filing, but crimes such as his contribute to the atmosphere of violence, government corruption, and mistrust of public institutions endemic to the community,” he wrote.
Last year, U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton charged Ward with agreeing to furnish information about police activity to an apparent dealer in a federal sting operation.
Ward pleaded guilty in November, as one of seven conspiracy defendants.
Wigginton and Ward stipulated that Ward would fall within a sentencing range of seven years and three months to 10 years, with a fine ranging from $15,000 to $10 million.
On April 8, two days before sentencing, Reagan asked Wigginton and Ward to prepare for discussion about a sentencing provision he called the “safety valve.”
It allows a judge to ignore a statutory minimum sentence for a drug defendant with no criminal history, who possessed no firearm in connection with the offense, caused no death or serious injury, and fully disclosed information about other defendants.
Ward’s lawyer, James Gomric of Belleville, moved on April 9 to continue sentencing so he and Wigginton could respond to Reagan’s inquiry.
Reagan postponed sentencing for 30 days, but neither Ward nor Wigginton filed a brief about the safety valve.
Reagan applied it anyway, imposing a five year sentence with credit for a year Ward had spent in jail since his arrest. He waived a fine.
“When considering the sentence to impose, one of the factors that the district court considers is deterrence, which comes in two forms,” Reagan wrote.
He wrote that specific deterrence discourages further crimes by a given defendant.
“General deterrence is aimed at deterring others from committing crimes and to promote respect for the law,” he wrote.
He began his essay with the city’s origin, writing that railroad workers who didn’t live there received $5 to vote in favor of naming the place East St. Louis.
Reagan continued, writing that:
Election of two rival governments in 1877 resulted in firefights, riots, the burning of a rail line, and placement of a bomb in a locomotive.
Mayor John Bowman, recognizing that the Illinois Supreme Court would dissolve his government, issued scrip that entitled a bearer to simply take cash from the city treasury.
An unknown assailant murdered Bowman in 1885.
Industries began moving from St. Louis and its restrictive business laws.
By the early 1900s, East St. Louis “provided the cheapest coal in the world, enormous stockyards and a thriving packing house trade,” Regan wrote.
Monsanto, Alcoa, Standard Oil, and Shell Oil created large operations.
Businesses sought illegal benefits from public officials.
“Corruption within City Hall became the norm, in the form of bribes or kickbacks, or simply public officials embezzling from city resources,” he wrote.
Charges were rarely filed and convictions were rarer still.
The city couldn’t pay its bills and constantly teetered on bankruptcy.
Companies began advertising in Southern newspapers to encourage African-Americans to move to East St. Louis.
Companies threatened white workers with replacement if they joined unions or remained in them, and union membership dropped 96 percent in 1917.
A union protest in May of that year “resulted in the most deadly race riot in the history of the United States.”
As many as 400 died, and more than 6,000 fled the city.
Malfeasance charges against mayor Fred Mollman and other charges against police officers were ultimately dropped.
After World War II, the city became a haven for prostitution, bootlegging, and gambling.
“In many cases, these crimes were either ignored entirely by city officials or, in some cases, protected by them,” he wrote.
In the 1950s, plants began to decrease their labor forces or close entirely.
“By the 1980s, there were less than 500 manufacturing jobs in the area,” he wrote.
With much of the budget going to debt service, city services suffered.
“City Hall itself was briefly awarded to a plaintiff’s estate,” he wrote.
The city had no money to buy paper, including toilet paper, and it couldn’t afford tires and gasoline for emergency vehicles.
Raw sewage overflowed into streets and houses.
“Often, only one police car was available to patrol the entire city,” he wrote.
From 1987 to 1992, trash was not collected.
Drugs were produced and distributed at epidemic levels.
The state board of education placed the public schools under supervision and the Department of Housing and Urban Development took over public housing.
The population fell from 82,295 in 1950 to 27,006 in 2010.
Census data from 2011 showed per capita and household income roughly 40 percent of the national average.
The school district has failed to meet No Child Left Behind standards for nine straight years.
After a decade of state oversight, the district had a $40 million surplus.
“The panel was dissolved and eight years later, the district had a $12 million deficit, prompting Illinois to step in again,” he wrote.
Reagan presented a table showing 60 violent crimes per thousand persons in East St. Louis, 22 per thousand in Detroit, and four per thousand nationally.
“East St. Louis’s homicide rate would place it sixth in the world, ahead of Cali, Colombia,” he wrote.
He also presented a table showing 34.6 violent crimes per police officer in East St. Louis, 1.5 per officer in Illinois, and 1.7 per officer nationally.
He presented a table of 46 crimes involving public corruption since 1990, mostly from East St. Louis but also from Brooklyn, Washington Park, and Alorton.
“The problems that exist today in East St. Louis are little different from those which have plagued the city for the last 150 years,” he wrote.
“Poor infrastructure and a general indifference towards residents have resulted in a culture of violent crime and corruption that has come to define the city.
“The court is in no way attributing the evils outlined in this memorandum to Mr. Ward.”
Regan wrote that he used the information to gain an appropriate perspective on his obligation to promote deterrence.
“This court has been previously on record discussing the need for general deterrence to inhibit the widespread corruption and violent crime of East St. Louis,” he wrote.
“As has been shown above, the need for deterrence unfortunately continues to exist today.”