ST. LOUIS – Roger Wilson, a Missouri Democrat who was elevated to the governor's job after the plane crash that killed Gov. Mel Carnahan, was sentenced Monday to two years of probation for misusing money to make political donations.
Wilson, 63, of Columbia, pleaded guilty in April to one count of misappropriation of funds from an insurer, 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. He also apologized.
"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 also was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and $5,000 in restitution, and must complete 100 hours of community service.
Wilson's attorney, Robert 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.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith did not oppose probation for Wilson, saying only that he deferred to the court's judgment.
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 a plane crash 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.
Wilson pleaded guilty on April 12, the same day he was indicted. 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," 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, 53, of suburban St. Louis, also pleaded guilty to a single count of misappropriation of funds from an insurer at a separate sentencing hearing Monday. He was placed on probation for one year and agreed to give up his law license for 18 months. He also must pay a $5,000 fine and $5,000 in restitution, and complete 100 hours of community service.
Morgan, who was under his own federal fraud indictment in an unrelated case, died in 2011.
Wilson also apologized the day he pleaded guilty. Both he and Griesedieck have paid fines of $2,000 to the Missouri Ethics Commission.