Guilty plea related to Smith campaign expected

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | 1:23 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — An attorney for state Rep. Steve Brown said Tuesday that the lawmaker will plead guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in connection with state Sen. Jeff Smith's 2004 congressional race.

Brown's attorney, Art Margulis, confirmed that the freshman Democratic House member from St. Louis who aided Smith's congressional campaign, will plead guilty Tuesday in federal court in St. Louis. Margulis said a prison sentence is possible.

Smith's attorney, Kevin O'Malley, said his client also is to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson.

One other person is scheduled to appear before Jackson. An official close to the prosecution who is not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said the third person was Nick Adams, who was Smith's campaign treasurer and deputy campaign manager.

Smith's campaign has come under federal scrutiny for its alleged connection to a supposedly independent group that distributed postcards and fliers critical of his 2004 primary opponent, Russ Carnahan. Some of the materials claimed they were paid for by while others included no mention of the source.

Carnahan's campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, which decided in December 2007 not to take any action against Smith, saying there was no reason to believe federal laws were violated.

As part of the FEC investigation, Smith denied any connection to the critical Carnahan materials in a September 2004 affidavit.

"To the best of my knowledge and belief, no one who was part of the Friends of Jeff Smith Committee nor any other group or organization under my control participated in any manner in the creation, printing, copying, distribution, mailing, or financing of any of the documents," Smith said in the sworn statement.

The FEC's probe focused on a political campaign committee called Voters for Truth, which ordered direct-mail postcards for distribution to about 25,000 residents in the 3rd Congressional District. A report to the FEC from its general counsel on Dec. 10, 2007, said Milton H. "Skip" Ohlsen III "was most likely the person responsible for the formation/activities" of Voters for Truth.

Ohlsen told investigators that Adams and another Smith campaign aide were primarily involved in Voters for Truth. He also said Brown was responsible for soliciting funds for the committee.

But investigators were unable to find contact information for Brown. They concluded that Adams' denial of involvement with Voters for Truth was more credible than Ohlsen's allegations.

The report states that investigators believed Ohlsen was seeking to implicate Adams while downplaying his own involvement.

Tuesday's court hearings come at a crucial time should either Smith or Brown resign.

Laura Egerdal, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said 10 weeks' notice is required for a special election — meaning 5 p.m. Tuesday is the deadline if a special election is to be on the Nov. 3 ballot.

"Special elections can be held any Tuesday, but it would be incredibly expensive" if it isn't on a traditional Election Day, Egerdal said. She said holding a special election on a date other than Election Day "would be extremely surprising."

The governor's office hasn't received a resignation letter from either lawmaker.

Smith was considered an underdog in the 2004 congressional race, and the campaign was the subject of a documentary called "Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?"

Carnahan, who still holds the seat, is the son of former Gov. Mel Carnahan and U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan. Smith lost to Russ Carnahan by fewer than 2,000 votes out of the more than 107,000 cast in the Democratic primary.

The documentary's creators said the film attempted to show political candidates with connections and money have significant advantages over others — regardless of ability.


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