Unsealed records reveal 'thug persona' of former Alorton mayor

News-DemocratJanuary 11, 2014 

— When Randy "Rambo" McCallum won election as mayor of this impoverished community, he set out to systematically loot his town.

But the true extent of this plundering wasn't revealed in the routine federal court documents filed after he got caught in 2012 and pleaded guilty, seven years after becoming mayor.

That changed last month when FBI affidavits for search warrants were made public through a new policy in federal court in East St. Louis.

The affidavits, based on undercover reports, agent surveillance and secret tapes, allow the public a chance to glimpse "the thug persona" of McCallum and other public officials caught in stings, said U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton, who supported making the documents public.

After he was released on bond pending sentencing on four federal felonies, McCallum wept during an apology to village board trustees.

But the affidavits show that confidential FBI informants, including a village cop, told agents that when it came to ripoffs, a greedy, profane McCallum considered nothing in Alorton to be off limits and ruled by threatening to fire anyone who didn't go along.

"I run this mother (expletive)," he repeatedly told village officials and cops. A new hire at the police department was told his entire first paycheck must be given to the mayor.

Affidavits

According to the affidavits, McCallum:

* Skimmed off a hefty slice of numerous phony, tax-paid grants intended to improve residences and businesses and increase taxes, then looked the other way when the recipients spent the money on personal items including boat docking fees and paying off credit cards. These illegal payouts were so numerous that a local check cashing agency ran out of money cashing the checks.

* Directed police to bring any "motherload" of seized money and drugs directly to his house, a practice that doomed prosecutions because McCallum spent the cash and sold the drug evidence.

* Ordered competing drug dealers to be robbed, advising rookie village cops they were expected to pull their share of "licks," or robberies and split the loot with him.

* Handpicked Michael Baxton Sr., now in federal prison, as his police chief. Baxton could advise McCallum of opportunities to loot seized drugs and cash because Baxton installed surveillance cameras throughout Village Hall and the police department, which he accessed from his home computer.

* Was so confident of his power that when an Alorton Police officer whom McCallum didn't know was working undercover for the FBI was invited to McCallum's home, the mayor didn't bother to hide a dozen or so crack cocaine "rocks" on his kitchen table he was preparing for sale.

* Organized "stunt crews," police teams instructed to shake down competing dealers and drive them out of town.

* Made sure that when his village's cops arrested any of his relatives or friends, their cases disappeared and the offending cop was threatened with firing.

This behavior drew suspicious inquiries from outside Alorton.

The theft of drugs seized in legitimate Alorton arrests caused officials at the Illinois State Police Lab in Fairview Heights in 2011 to inquire why the crime-ridden village had stopped sending drugs for testing for more than a year.

A concerned outside auditor wrote a letter to the mayor in June 2011 asking why there had been no deposits in village bank accounts since June 2010.

"The accountants noted that it was impossible that the village didn't occasionally come into cash receipts," an affidavit stated.

Anything of value

The affidavits state that McCallum, 46, received thousands of dollars in payoffs and drugs that he resold. But he was willing to accept anything of value, even a bottle of liquor in return for approving phony police overtime pay.

"You owe me a bottle," was his response to a police officer granted overtime for doing nothing.

McCallum is serving a 42-month sentence in federal prison for theft of government property, intent to distribute cocaine, attempting to smuggle contraband into a jail and lying to police. He is scheduled for release in January 2015.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, whose office worked with the FBI and other federal agents on several criminal investigations of Alorton officials, said he hoped that with McCallum gone, residents may experience proper government.

Referring to the new police chief, Larry Austell, who was not in charge during the federal investigations, Kelly said, "Chief Austell has been a strong supporter of the reforms," suggested by a police oversight agency, the Metro East Police District Commission.

"But we have a long way to go," Kelly said. "We have to remember, many people from Alorton bravely risked their livelihood and maybe their lives to do the right thing and stop those who were violating the public trust, so there is cause for hope in Alorton, too."

Austell could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Joann Reed, who is charged in county court with felony official misconduct, also could not be reached. She is alleged to have smuggled a cellphone and fried chicken into the cell of a female relative at the village police department on charges that she assaulted a pregnant woman.

'In the nose'

McCallum's time as a corrupt mayor resulted in strange and sometimes tragic events, according to the affidavits.

He bragged about being a criminal and wanting to shoot someone "in the nose" with a special pistol that could fit in the palm of his hand.

Former public safety director and McCallum favorite, Harry Halter, a tow truck operator was sentenced Thursday to two years in federal prison for wire fraud and tax evasion.

Halter, according to county court records, was an Alorton cop in 2008. A police report states he was drunk and outside his jurisdiction when he used his police emergency lights to stop a woman who was driving on a suspended license and forced her to perform oral sex in return for not being arrested. He received probation on a conviction for offcial misconduct and did not have to register as a sex offender. The case wasn't resolved until 2011.

McCallum cleared the way for Halter to make off with about $19,000 in taxpayer money, which Halter used to pay marina costs.

Strange events included a village cop's account to federal agents about arresting a drug suspect in 2011, patting him down and finding a semiautomatic handgun. When he ran the serial number it came back as registered to the Alorton Police Department, an affidavit stated.

The cop, working undercover for the federal investigators, said he logged the firearm into evidence but later could not locate it.

McCallum cherished handguns and once, according to an affidavit, covertly pocketed a .380 semiautomatic pistol from the car of a police officer, later commenting that he thought "it has three or four bodies on it" -- street slang for murders.

McCallum kept it anyway, but later complained that he needed a more compact pistol so he could "just walk up and shoot somebody in the nose."

The affidavits show he went to a Belleville gun shop to buy such a handgun and displayed an Alorton Police Department letterhead in an attempt to avoid a three-day waiting period. It was not stated whether he actually bought a gun.

'Real police'

The affidavits also refer to Baxton, a former East St. Louis chief of police now in federal prison for stealing Xbox video games from the trunk of a vehicle he believed to be stolen. The stolen vehicle was actually set up as an FBI sting.

At the time, in October 2011, Baxton was the police chief in Alorton. When he and an Alorton police officer responded to the stolen car, he had no idea the vehicle had been rigged for sound by the FBI.

While Baxton, like McCallum, later wept during a public apology -- his was made in federal court -- he displayed his "thug" persona when searching that stolen car, according to one of the FBI affidavits.

Giving the officer with him one of the games while putting the remaining four in his own vehicle, Baxton warned his fellow cop to "keep your mouth shut." Then he said, "This ain't (expletive), I'm gonna put you on some real (expletive), teach you how to be real police."

'The Wolf'

In June 2011, McCallum summoned an Alorton cop he thought he could trust, who was secretly working for the FBI, and told him he was irked by a marijuana dealer nicknamed "The Wolf," who was selling 20 pounds of the drug per week in Alorton. An affidavit states that McCallum told the officer to come in on overtime.

Later that night, McCallum, in a black SUV, had gathered three known drug dealers as helpers and told the undercover officer to proceed in an Alorton squad car and "make a traffic stop and take the marijuana from ("The Wolf") and then give the drugs to the mayor."

Undercover FBI and Illinois State Police agents tailed the SUV to make sure the caper didn't get out of hand. But it ultimately did not come off when "The Wolf" couldn't be found.

In a bold encounter, according to an affidavit, an undercover Illinois State Police officer who apparently had gotten himself hired as an Alorton cop faked a drug stop right in front of McCallum's air-conditioning business. The ruse, witnessed by McCallum who came outside, involved the undercover cop stopping a car, searching it, and then letting the driver go.

The undercover cop drove away but, within a few minutes received a call from McCallum telling him to pull around behind the mayor's house on South 42nd Street.

The ISP agent did as told and showed the mayor $2,060 in cash he claimed came from a drug dealer who had begged to be let go. McCallum wanted a share, the affidavit stated, but before he scooped up the bills he asked the agent whether he was working with "them people," meaning the FBI.

Taking "no" for an answer, McCallum kept $1,060 in what were actually marked bills.

He then got into his own car and drove to Home Depot in Belleville and spent $20, using four $5 bills of the marked currency.

Agents wasted no time. They came in behind him, asked the store manager to examine the store receipts, and found the four bills, "thereby verifying that McCallum had spent a portion of the cash he received from (the agent) on personal expenditures," an affidavit stated.

Suspicions arise

In September 2011, McCallum finally began to get suspicious. He advised an Alorton cop he thought he could trust but who was working for federal agents that "the feds might be trying to set someone up." An affidavit states the mayor advised the officer to "run his cases straight for a while."

By this time, McCallum had taken to asking informants working for the FBI and the officer working undercover, "you're not wired are you?" Each time he accepted "no" for an answer without patting the person down.

At other times he still asked, "you aren't working for 'them people' are you?" but accepted a verbal denial and split drug proceeds and cash.

He was arrested by federal agents in February 2012.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 239-2625. Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 239-2570.

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