In East St. Louis, Illinois, the man who ran the local Democratic Party “Machine” was recently ordered to pay $2600 in fines and sentenced to 21 months in prison and two years of probation for conspiracy to buy votes. That wasn’t the worst of his crimes. Charles Powell Jr., aged 62, was not only a prominent political “boss” in the Tammany Hall tradition; he is also the owner and proprietor of Powell’s Demolition Company. In 2002, Powell contracted with a local real estate developer to convert a 12-story building into office and commercial space. The Spivey Building was constructed in 1929 as part of a plan to give East St. Louis a “skyline.” For decades since, it was the tallest building in the area. Local developer Philip Cohn was allowed to purchase the crumbling building for $75,000, promising the city that it would be beautifully renovated.
Work commenced in 2002, but instead of the promised improvements, the condition of the building continued to deteriorate. Finally, in response to complaints from local residents that workers were throwing asbestos-covered materials out of windows, the FBI and EPA began investigations. In 2004, Cohn was charged with initiating renovation work in violation of asbestos regulations. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison and five years of probation. Powell, whose company performed the work, was charged with conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act and failure to notify the Illinois EPA prior to asbestos removal. He pleaded guilty to both counts. During the course of the work, Powell used untrained workers, for whom he failed to provide any protective gear or warnings about the possible exposure. In addition, Powell neglected to inform the waste haulers. In addition to the sentence for his political machinations, Powell was sentenced to 15 months in prison and two years of probation. As for the Spivey Building, the property was condemned in July of 2004 when bricks from the roof fell onto the street below. East St. Louis city manager Alvin Parks ordered the demolition of the building in January of 2005.