The One that Got Away

7 07 2012

A federal sting snares the mayor of St. Gabriel, Louisiana in a trashy scam and  links him to a St. Louis con artist who remains on the lam.  

by Will Delaney

As it meanders toward the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River slows and bunches together as if trying to delay the inevitable. The lingering creates a closer bond with the land. St. Gabriel, Louisiana, a sleepy Delta town of 6,600, hugs one of the river’s many serpentine bends south of Baton Rouge. The burg is located in Iberville Parish, the heart of Cajun country, but two thirds of its population is African American. And nearly one quarter of the inhabitants live below the poverty level. The town is noted for being the location of two state prisons, which house more than 2,700 inmates. The other major employer in the area is the petrol-chemical industry. With the exception of Slay Transportation, which has a truck terminal in St. Gabriel, there are few ties to St. Louis, a Midwestern city more than 600 miles to the north.

But that was before Igor Grushewsky came to town.

Former St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace (right) leaving federal court in Baton Rouge earlier this year.

Grushewsky, who is wanted by the feds in St. Louis, showed up in St. Gabriel back in 2004, pitching a plan to build a basalt pipe plant that would help bring prosperity to the impoverished community. The chain-smoking Russian immigrant from St. Louis quickly gained the support of then-Mayor George Grace.

In March, Grace was convicted in an unrelated case on seven counts of racketeering in federal court in the Baton Rouge. The former mayor was found guilty of accepting more than $16,000 in kickbacks between 2008 and 2010 from Cifer 5000, a fictitious trash-can cleaning company set up by the FBI as part of Operation Blighted Official. In return for the payments, Grace worked to attract millions in public and private funding for the fake company.

During the trial, Grace and others also testified about an earlier scheme, this one hatched between the mayor and Grushewsky, who touted himself as the CEO of a corporation called Global Energy on North America, allegedly headquartered in St. Charles, Missouri.

According to court testimony, Grace signed a letter indicating the city of St. Gabriel’s intention to subsidize Global Energy’s plan to the tune of $1 million. The proposed project would have recouped expenses through nabbing state and federal economic development grants, but the idea never got beyond the drawing board. During the course of the aborted scam, however, Grushewsky managed to bilk the city out of as much as $20,000 in supposedly computer-related fees, which Grace then tried to cover up.

At the trial earlier this year in Baton Rouge, federal prosecutors said that Grushewsky has been under criminal indictment in St. Louis since 2007. Grushewsky is charged with mail and wire fraud for allegedly hustling people in several states out of more than $200,000 related to the bogus sales of Russian aircraft and diamonds, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

A YAK 18T

Kenneth Bracht of Washington state, one of the marks targeted by Grushewsky, filed a civil suit in federal court in St. Louis in 2005, after being taken in a scam involving the purported sale of a YAK 18T airplane. In 2000, Gruwshewsky incorporated Yakolev Centers of America, an aviation sales company, with the help of a St. Louis lawyer. The following year Bracht came to St. Louis to negotiate the deal, meeting with Grushewsky at a hangar at the Creve Coeur airport. Bracht agreed to purchase the plane for $80,000, and ultimately gave Grushewsky more than $58,000, while the aircraft was ostensibly being repaired. More than a year later, Grushewsky had failed to deliver the aircraft. Instead, he cut Bracht a check that bounced.

Grushewsky, who remains on the lam, is a licensed pilot and the owner of two YAK aircraft. One of the planes is registered with the FAA as being stored at Breese Airport in Clinton County, Illinois. The registration on the plane expired in March. The co-owner of the aircraft is listed as Richard Illyes of Maplewood, Missouri. Illyes is the former head of the Missouri Libertarian Party.

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