CEO's past looms over downtown Cape Girardeau development

Sunday, December 19, 2010
Gov. Jay Nixon announced over $2 million in state economic development incentives at a Dec. 8 morning news conference to assist the creation of a vision and dental care cooperative in downtown Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Information about the nature of the incentives has been corrected.

Click to download a list of Watch Me Smile's parent company's stockholders

Click to download the sponsor application for state economic development loan funding

Click to download the Quality Jobs Program application for Watch Me Smile

City and state officials are determining what ramifications, if any, there will be in the wake of news that the CEO of a Cape Girardeau investment group, whose dental and vision cooperative was awarded $2 million in state aid, pleaded guilty to a felony in 2007.

The city of Cape Girardeau received a $750,000 loan on behalf of Hometown Innovation Team, whose CEO, Weaver Dickerson, pleaded guilty three years ago to five felony counts of passing bad checks totaling more than $90,000, The Associated Press reported. The announcement of the development and the state's financial involvement was made by Gov. Jay Nixon on Dec. 8.

Many of those involved in approving the block grant say they were not aware of Dickerson's past legal issues, or at least of the felony bad check writing.

In documents filed by Dickerson with the Missouri Department of Economic Development, he attested that no one who had an ownership interest in the company had committed a felony, was under indictment for a felony or was on probation or parole. However, Dickerson is listed in the same application as an owner. Dickerson, 34, confirmed Friday to the AP that he is on probation for passing bad checks.

Opinions differ on whether Dickerson was actually convicted of a felony since he received a suspended imposition of sentence and was ordered to complete five years of unsupervised probation. It's technically not a conviction if he completes his probation.

In a statement to the Southeast Missourian on Friday, Dickerson said: "While my personal history has a record of past mistakes more than three years ago, this in no way negatively impacts my ability to act as an officer of Hometown Innovation Team. I am currently making the required restitution to the State of Missouri and anticipate having the matter closed as early as next week. I have done everything the law requires to make this case right."

Mayor Harry Rediger said he was not aware of Dickerson's criminal past until earlier this week and that Dickerson had been upfront with city officials, telling them he had personal financial problems in the past.

"We knew earlier on that he had a previous bankruptcy. We did not know about a probation," Rediger said Friday. "We are not really concerned about his past record. What we are concerned about is that he and his entity meet the state standards required to receive this funding."

City manager Scott Meyer said the city doesn't regularly do background checks of people who want to do business in the city.

Under Department of Economic Development policy, no taxpayer dollars have or will be released for the project until the business can demonstrate that it is in compliance with all state laws and regulations and can meet the terms of its contract, according to DED spokesman John Fougere.

"Working with our partners in local government, the Department of Economic Development's due diligence in this matter is ongoing," Fougere said.

A spokeswoman for the Missouri attorney general's office said Friday that the matter had not been submitted to that office for investigation.

The court records obtained by the AP show that in March 2007, Dickerson's prison sentence was suspended and he was placed on five years of unsupervised probation after pleading guilty to three counts of writing bad checks worth $73,204. In May 2007, he pleaded guilty to two other counts of passing $18,717 in bad checks. His prison sentence was suspended, and he was placed on supervised probation for five years.

The state Department of Corrections said its records show Dickerson's probation ends in 2012.

Stoddard County prosecutors say in court records that Dickerson wrote three checks in November 2006 to the Delta Growers Association of Charleston, Mo., from an account at Paducah Bank. Authorities say that Dickerson knew the checks would not be paid. Prosecutors say Dickerson wrote two checks to Midland Davis in March 2007 that he also knew would not be paid.

The Delta Growers Association sued Dickerson for breach of contract in February 2007. Keith Jorgensen, general manager for the Delta Growers Association, would not comment to the Southeast Missourian.

It is unclear what will happen now that Dickerson's legal history has been brought to the attention of city and state economic development officials, Rediger said.

"We'll be waiting to hear back from the state and hope to get an answer from the developer," he said.

The $10 million Watch Me Smile development by Hometown Innovation Team promises 135 new jobs and calls for 90,000 square feet of renovations in three downtown Cape Girardeau buildings that would be leased to the company by Merriwether Investments, owned by John P. Wyman. Wyman also serves as vice president of Hometown Holding Group LLC, the grant applicant.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

325 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

Comments
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: