ST. LOUIS — Former Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson pleaded guilty Thursday to misusing money involved in an illegal political donation made years after he left office, and the longtime Democratic stalwart apologized for his misdeed.
Wilson's guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge came the same day federal prosecutors announced an indictment against him and St. Louis lawyer Edward Griesedieck III, 53. The indictment alleged that Griesedieck had his law firm donate $5,000 to the Missouri Democratic Party and hid the cost in legal bills submitted to Missouri Employers Mutual in October 2009, when Wilson was interim chief executive.
Wilson, 63, admitted in his plea that he approved payment of the legal bill even though he knew the $5,000 was not for legal work but was to reimburse Griesedieck for the contribution to the Democratic Party.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 9, and Wilson is free on his own recognizance. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said the sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence ranging up to six months in prison.
"I take public responsibility for the mistake," Wilson said following a brief hearing in downtown St. Louis, with his wife, Pat, at his side. "I apologize to everyone. I'm going to bear the consequences of my mistake."
Wilson's attorney, Robert Haar, said Wilson's mistake "doesn't change all the good things he has done for the state of Missouri."
"It is a surprise, and a sad one to those of us who know and like Roger," Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said. "The real question is who put him up to this? This didn't come from Roger waking up one morning and deciding to start laundering money for the first time in his career."
Wilson was a major player in Missouri politics for decades. He served 20 years in the state Senate, then nearly eight as lieutenant governor before former Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash in October 2000. Wilson became governor until fellow Democrat Bob Holden, who was elected in November 2000, took office in January 2001.
The Missouri General Assembly created Missouri Employers Mutual in 1994 to help businesses get workers' compensation coverage at reasonable rates. Wilson became interim chief executive officer in 2009 and permanent CEO in 2010.
Griesedieck, a well-known St. Louis attorney, did not have a listed phone number nor a listed criminal attorney. A. Fuller Glaser Jr., a partner in Griesedieck's former law firm, Herzog Crebs, said Griesedieck and the firm agreed to part earlier this week. The firm itself was not accused of wrongdoing.
"Herzog Crebs regrets the unfortunate misjudgment of its former partner Edward Griesedieck, which was contrary to our values," Glaser said. "We also regret not having sufficient safeguards in place at the time. We have since strengthened those safeguards to prevent future incidents."
The indictment claimed that former Missouri Employers Mutual board chairman Douglas Morgan asked Griesedieck to make the donation to the Democratic Party without the knowledge of other board members, and requested a second contribution for $3,000. Months later, general counsel for the insurance firm questioned the $3,000 legal bill, and Wilson reimbursed the law firm with his own money, federal prosecutors said.
Wilson was placed on administrative leave by Missouri Employers Mutual in May 2010. He was ousted a month later, without explanation. Neither the company nor Wilson would comment at the time. Jim Owen was named CEO in December.
In a written statement, the insurance firm said it has "completed thorough internal and external, independent investigations that confirmed there have been no other similar incidents."
The statement also said the firm has procedures and oversight "to safeguard against material damage by any board member, executive or employee."
Despite its state affiliation, Missouri Employers Mutual conducted business with little public scrutiny until Wilson's sudden departure and the federal indictments last year of two former board members, Morgan and Karen Pletz, who were accused of fraud and embezzlement, respectively. Neither case was connected to Missouri Employers Mutual, and both died before going to trial.
A state audit released in February was critical of Missouri Employers Mutual, saying it avoids federal income taxes by claiming to be a public corporation yet generally operates as a private entity and shells out big bucks for executive perks.
Before the indictment was released, two lawmakers in charge of investigating Missouri Employers Mutual said they were not concerned with the federal indictment. Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, and Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, both said the public firm should become a private company, a move that could potentially hurt Missouri Employers Mutual's future profits.
Lembke and Barnes have both pushed for legislation to privatize the company, created in 1993 by state statute.
Last week, the Missouri Senate adopted a measure creating a special commission to study Missouri Employers Mutual. The commission would be charged with submitting recommendations to the General Assembly about whether or not the company should be privatized.
Missouri Digital News reporters Sherman Fabes and Matthew Patane contributed to this report.