Joann Reed is to be sworn in as mayor Monday, but she could lose the office if she’s convicted of a felony vote fraud charge pending against her.
If that happens, it would be the second time she is forced to leave office due to a criminal conviction.
Reed pleaded guilty to a 2013 felony charge involving bringing contraband to a relative being held at the Alorton police department jail, and was forced to resign. But her felony record was later wiped clean, which allowed her to successfully run for mayor April 4.
An Illinois law provides that if a defendant’s criminal action can be shown by an “independent evaluator” to have been connected to substance abuse, a felony record can be erased if the person completes drug treatment and probation. Reed successfully completed treatment and ended her probation on Oct. 24, 2016.
Reed now faces a felony vote fraud charge filed in December. St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said if Reed is convicted, he will ask a judge to again remove her from office.
Kelly said he will not accept a plea bargain to anything less than a felony conviction. And the substance abuse provision used to erase her criminal record the first time won’t come into play because it can only be used once.
“The defendant was removed before, and we’ll do it again if the evidence and law necessitates,” Kelly said.
Reed did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Her attorney, Mark Scoggins, of Columbia, said, “There is a defense, and we will defend it. We are ready for trial.”
Despite facing her second felony prosecution in three years, Reed received financial support this year from prominent St. Clair County Democrats, including $1,500 from the law firm of county Democratic boss Robert Sprague; $1,000 from the law firm of Belleville attorney Tom Keefe; and $1,000 from County Board Chairman Mark Kern. Scoggins, Reed’s attorney on the criminal charge, contributed $8,000 to her campaign through his law firm.
We don’t anticipate there will be any plea negotiations unless there is a plea to a felony, so we are planning on the case going to trial.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly
Reed pleaded guilty in 2013 to arranging for a cell phone and food to be smuggled to her niece, who was being held in the Alorton Police Department lockup on charges that she assaulted a pregnant woman. Because of her guilty plea, Reed lost her position as keeper of criminal records at the St. Clair County Sheriff’s office, a $27,000 a year job that she augmented with her $15,000 mayor’s salary.
When she pleaded guilty to the contraband charge three years ago, Reed told the BND at the time, “It is an unfortunate situation for me. I have been told by numerous officers that bringing money, cellphones and cigarettes into the jail is a common practice. ... I am a good person, and the people who really know me will tell anybody that.”
Reed was not the first Alorton mayor to resign from office following a conviction. In 2012, Randy McCallum resigned as mayor after he pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges including intent to distribute cocaine and lying to the FBI. He was sentenced to 43 months. In 2000, Callie Mobley pleaded guilty to filing false income tax returns and was sentenced to serve 30 months. She was also ordered to pay restitution of $140,000 to the village.
In the current vote fraud case, Reed is charged with two counts: felony vote buying and misdemeanor electioneering. The vote buying involves allegedly paying a single Alorton resident during the run up to the Nov. 4 general election to vote a certain way. The electioneering count involves improperly influencing a voter.
“We don’t anticipate there will be any plea negotiations unless there is a plea to a felony, so we are planning on the case going to trial,” Kelly, the state’s attorney, said. If she is found guilty of felony vote fraud, Kelly said Reed would not be able to serve as mayor, and he would move for court proceedings to remove her from office.
“If she is found guilty of the new charges, she will be a convicted felon and will not be eligible to hold municipal office. So we are ready for trial, and that will be determinative,” Kelly said.
In 2011 Reed was on her job in the records section of the Sheriff’s Department when she mistakenly sent a fax to News-Democrat reporters that she had intended to send to a Belleville attorney who handled legal matters for the department. The fax asked that a speeding ticket issued to the son of a deputy sheriff not be sent to court and instead be dismissed. Reed admitted that she sent the fax, responding, “Guilty. Period.”
The resulting news story was picked up by the Associated Press and ran in newspapers around the world. An embarrassed sheriff, the late Mearl Justus, promised he would investigate, but the results of any investigation are unknown.
George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk