ST. LOUIS — Roger Wilson, a Missouri Democrat who was elevated to the governor's job in 2000 after a plane crash killed Gov. Mel Carnahan, was sentenced Monday to two years of probation for misusing money to make political donations.
Wilson, 63, pleaded guilty April 12 to one count of misdemeanor campaign finance fraud, the same day his federal indictment was announced. He admitted that he improperly steered $8,000 to the state Democratic Party in 2009 while serving as CEO of Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co., a state-created workers' compensation firm.
Wilson could have received up to six months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Chief Magistrate Judge Mary Ann Medler cited Wilson's otherwise exemplary record in nearly a quarter-century of public service in opting not to require jail time. She also cited the many letters of support for Wilson.
"Mr. Wilson, you should be grateful and humbled by the number of people who went to bat for you," the judge said.
"I am," Wilson responded quietly.
"There are no excuses," Wilson said in the courtroom that included about a dozen supporters, his wife and daughter among them. "I made a mistake. I apologize for that mistake, and I deeply regret it."
He was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and $5,000 in restitution. He must complete 100 hours of community service.
Wilson was a state senator for 14 years, then served two terms as lieutenant governor. He became governor for three months after Carnahan died in October 2000 while running for U.S. Senate.
After leaving politics in 2001, Wilson chaired the Missouri Tourism Commission and the Missouri Rural Economic Development Council before taking over at Missouri Employers Mutual.
The St. Louis law firm Herzog Crebs donated $5,000 to the Missouri Democratic Party in August 2009 but hid the cost in legal bills submitted to Missouri Employers Mutual. Wilson used his own money to hide an additional $3,000 donation from the law firm.
The donations were made while Wilson was the insurance firm's interim CEO. He was named to the full-time position in January 2010, but removed by the board without explanation in June 2011, one month after being placed on administrative leave.
St. Louis attorney Edward Griesedieck III, a former Herzog Crebs partner, was indicted and pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge.
According to Wilson's federal indictment, Missouri Employers Mutual board chairman Douglas Morgan asked Griesedieck to make the Democratic Party donation without the knowledge of other board members. Morgan also sought a second contribution for $3,000, which was questioned by the insurance firm's general counsel.
"Although there was nothing that prohibited MEM (Missouri Employers Mutual) from making such contributions, there was concern that it would inevitably invite solicitations from politicians throughout the state for similar contributions," Wilson's attorney Robert Haar wrote on behalf of Wilson. "That resulted in the board member's proposal that any contribution be made through the law firm. Roger did not say 'no.' He did not pick a fight. He will spend the rest of his life regretting it."
Griesedieck, whose law license was suspended by the state Supreme Court pending the outcome of the criminal case, is also seeking probation. Morgan, who was under his own federal fraud indictment in an unrelated case, died in 2011.
Wilson also apologized for his wrongdoing the day he pleaded guilty. He has paid a $2,000 fine to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Haar said Wilson's crime was a lone stain on an otherwise strong record.
"The mistake that Roger made here is out of character with the way he has dealt with people his entire life," Haar said at the hearing.