Mo. Rep. El-Amin resigns

Friday, September 25, 2009
Missouri Rep. T.D. El-Amin, right, left federal court with his attorney Paul D'Agrosa after El-Amin entered a guilty plea to a federal bribery charge Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, in St. Louis, Mo. Following Thursday's guilty plea for accepting $2,100 from a St. Louis gas station owner, El-Amin told reporters that he was resigning from office saying he had broken the trust of his family, friends and supporters.(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS -- State Rep. Talibdin El-Amin pleaded guilty to a bribery charge and said he would resign Thursday after admitting he accepted $2,100 from a St. Louis gas station owner who wanted help resolving problems with city government.

El-Amin, 38, acknowledged in court that he solicited the money after the gas station owner complained to him in March that he was facing increased business inspections and city nuisance citations because of a disagreement with an alderman.

The lawmaker accepted the money in installments during a series of May meetings at his St. Louis office, using written notes to conduct portions of his conversations with the businessman because he feared his office was bugged, according to the federal plea agreement.

After pleading guilty, El-Amin told reporters outside the courthouse that he was resigning. He noted that his surname means "trustworthy."

"A trust has been broken, and for that I apologize to my family, to my friends and to those who have supported me," El-Amin said.

El-Amin said he hoped the case would not deter young people from considering government service but would be a warning to avoid crossing the line between acceptable and unethical behavior.

The bribery charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though federal sentencing guidelines call for 18-24 months in prison. Sentencing is set for Dec. 14.

El-Amin is the third Democratic lawmaker from the St. Louis area to plead guilty to federal charges in the past month. State Sen. Jeff Smith and Rep. Steve Brown resigned after pleading guilty in August to a scheme to obstruct a federal investigation into finance violations by Smith's unsuccessful 2004 congressional campaign.

At the time, the FBI said there were more public corruption cases to come. On Thursday, federal authorities said they are pursing corruption cases but declined to say whether an investigation was continuing into the St. Louis city officials. Neither the gas station owner nor the alderman were identified in court documents.

According to court documents, the gas station owner initially refused to pay El-Amin $1,000 after a March meeting. But at May 1 meeting, El-Amin passed a note asking the businessman how much money he had, and the gas station owner said he had $700.

El-Amin responded verbally: "Not something I'm very comfortable talking about, money. For me to say that I'll do this for that would be a violation, so I don't ever want to talk about helping and attaching that to money." In a note, El-Amin added: "I absolutely don't talk $ in this office."

Documents show that El-Amin and the businessman then haggled over the price. In a note, El-Amin said he needed the money because "this puts me at war with (the alderman's family). I don't mind. But I need money to fight them."

El-Amin later told the gas station owner that he had spoken with an unnamed city department head, who would need to be paid $1,000.

John Gillies, the FBI special agent in charge of the St. Louis office, said called the bribe solicitation "stupidity" and an example of greedy self-interest. Gillies said that El-Amin's guilty plea should send a message to others in public office.

"Politicians: Take the `for sale' sign down, all right?" Gillies said outside the courthouse. "Our government officials and government services are not for sale. You're elected to do a job, do the job."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said the investigation resulted from the gas station owner's complaint to federal authorities.

Court records indicated El-Amin may have faced personal financial troubles. A St. Louis judge issued a more than $13,000 judgment against El-Amin in March after he was sued by a debt collection company. El-Amin failed to contest that case.

El-Amin first was elected to the House in 2006, filling the northwest St. Louis seat that had been held by his wife, Yaphett, who lost to Smith that year in a Democratic Senate primary.

El-Amin had considered running for Senate himself after Smith resigned. But El-Amin pulled out of the Democratic nominating process, heightening speculation that he also was under investigation. El-Amin told The Associated Press at the time that he wasn't running in the special election because he wasn't sure if he could win election to a full four-year Senate term in 2010.

A former automobile assembly plant worker, El-Amin generally remained silent door House floor debates but sponsored several measures that provoked public debate, including an unsuccessful resolution formally apologizing for Missouri's role in slavery.

El-Amin also sponsored failed bills that would have banned people from holding cell phones while driving and required baking soda to be sold from behind pharmacy counters in an effort to restrict access to a base ingredient in crack cocaine. Another failed bill would have allowed people convicted of nonviolent crimes to serve time in the Missouri National Guard instead of in prison.

A year ago, El-Amin's father-in-law, Eddie Hasan, pleaded guilty to a federal tax evasion charge for failing to report income from his minority contracting consulting business, MoKan, and from other sources. He was sentenced last October to a year in federal prison.

Associated Press correspondent David A. Lieb contributed to this report from Jefferson City.

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