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Target in probe of law grants is a suicide

Target in probe of law grants is a suicide
By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 2/18/2004

Richard St. Louis, a law enforcement consultant and former state Executive Office of Public Safety official who was under investigation for his involvement with grants the office distributed, committed suicide yesterday in Georgia, where he was visiting relatives.

The FBI is investigating St. Louis and his consulting firm, Crest Associates. Last week, the Westwood police chief asked the US attorney's office and state attorney general to launch their own investigations, alleging that the firm created fraudulent invoices to justify spending federal grant money.

"It's heartbreaking and a horrible personal tragedy for his family," said Kathleen O'Toole, the incoming Boston police commissioner, who was the state public safety secretary when St. Louis served as that agency's chief of staff several years ago.

Andover Police Chief Brian J. Pattullo, who worked closely with St. Louis for four years, said St. Louis was "extremely distraught" in recent days because he felt his "reputation for the highest level of integrity had been tarnished."

"I think we will find that he did nothing illegal, but for Richard it was a tough struggle, because he felt he had let a lot of people down" because of the FBI investigation, Pattullo said. "I'm very saddened and shocked and feel devastated for his wife and family."

St. Louis's name first surfaced in late October in connection with an FBI investigation into possible mishandling of grants. Since then, St. Louis and Crest Associates have been the subject of numerous news reports.

Crest Associates advises police departments how to obtain grants to develop law enforcement initiatives. The grants come from federal funds, which were distributed by the Executive Office of Public Safety. Since 2002, Crest has helped secure about $7 million in grants for about 10 clients, nearly all the grant money the public safety office has handed out for large projects, according to state records.

Last week, Crest's work on behalf of the Westwood Police Department came under scrutiny after a Globe report raised questions about invoices assembled by the firm in 2003 to document spending of about $90,000 in grant money. Westwood Police Chief William G. Chase reviewed the invoices and asked the US attorney and state attorney general to investigate what he called "inflated and fabricated" invoices.

Mark W. Pearlstein, St. Louis's lawyer, said his client committed suicide in Georgia, where he had relatives.

St. Louis's brother had invited him to Georgia because he "was under a lot of stress," according to a former state official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"This is a horrible tragedy," Pearlstein said in a statement released on behalf of the family. "Richard St. Louis was a man who dedicated his professional life to the improvement of law enforcement in Massachusetts. He was a good and decent man, devoted above all else to his family. Contrary to unfair and inaccurate rumors and innuendo, he never violated any law or took any action which even threatened to sully his reputation. His passing will be keenly felt by all who were privileged to know him." Pearlstein declined to comment further.

Two people who spoke on the phone from St. Louis's parents' home in New Hampshire declined to comment.

Pattullo -- president of the North East Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, one of three regional groups of police departments represented by Crest -- said police chiefs with whom he spoke yesterday "all expressed the highest opinion of Richard St. Louis and the work he did on behalf of law enforcement."

Crest was instrumental in bringing millions of dollars to the North East Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council for such projects as a homeland security communications system and a protocol for assessing the threat level for violence at schools.

Last week, Chase requested an investigation of a $250,000 grant that helped establish a regional group, made up of about 40 police departments, known as the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council. Crest was responsible for filing reports on the grant with the state public safety office.

The council held a board meeting yesterday and was scheduled to consider whether to cancel another contract with Crest for monthly consulting, but no action was taken, according to a police chief who attended.

Also yesterday, a spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on St. Louis or Crest, citing the agency's policy of neither confirming nor denying an investigation. A call seeking comment from the US attorney's office was not returned.

Christine Cole, deputy chief of staff to Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn, also declined to comment. Flynn had confirmed the FBI probe in December.

St. Louis, 38, grew up in Methuen, was a 1987 graduate of Merrimack College, and received a master's degree in public administration from Suffolk University, according to his resume. In 1992, he went to work for the state comptroller's office and then spent about a year as a budget analyst for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.

In 1994, St. Louis moved to the Executive Office of Public Safety, where he became executive director of that office's grants program and eventually served as chief of staff to O'Toole when she was public safety secretary in 1997 and 1998.

After a brief stint at the state office of the chief medical examiner, St. Louis founded Crest Associates in 1998. Operating from a basement room in his Methuen home, St. Louis built up the business by adding clients such as the Greater Boston Police Council, the Essex County sheriff's office, and the police departments in Andover, Arlington, Burlington, Concord, Melrose, Methuen, Oak Bluffs, Peabody, and Wakefield.

Last year, St. Louis and his wife and two children moved from Methuen to West Newbury.

"For over 10 years, I have known Richard to be a tough, driven, innovative, and honest" person, said a friend and business associate who requested anonymity. "His style and personality have clashed at times with officials resistant to change, and this has earned him intense animosity from those whose egos have been bruised along the way."

The former state official called St. Louis "a no-nonsense guy" who was known for his intensity and well-liked by "management types."

"He had no patience with slackers or people who were incompetent," the official said. "He always had the reputation of being incredibly principled, and that's why it's such a shock [for him] to have been the subject of such scrutiny. His reputation defied any of that. It's so bizarre."
 
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