ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis police pension board on Thursday suspended one of its members for policy violations, including what the board says was unauthorized lobbying and posting online that he thinks it’s “insane” to grant police officers disability benefits related to COVID-19.
Gary Wiegert, a retired St. Louis police sergeant and former president of the St. Louis police union, was suspended by unanimous vote Thursday by fellow trustees of the Police Retirement System of St. Louis pension board.
Wiegert did not attend his misconduct hearing before the board and could not be reached by the Post-Dispatch for comment.
But in an email Wiegert sent to members of the St. Louis Police Veterans’ Association, he decried his treatment, including being banned from entering pension board offices.
Wiegert blamed the “cancel culture at the St. Louis police pension system” for trying to silence his complaints.
Attorney Neil Bruntrager was retained by the board to present the misconduct findings at Thursday’s hearing.
Bruntrager argued Wiegert violated the trustees’ fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the fund’s members.
The fund manages about $870 million in assets and supports more than 1,800 retired or disabled police officers and their families. The retirement system got about $33 million in city funds in fiscal year 2020, according to city budget records.
The allegations against Wiegert include:
• The board says Wiegert “fabricated” the accusations “which he knows to be false and distorted.” Bruntrager argued Wiegert refused to bring the claims through the board’s established complaint process to be investigated.
• Posting and spreading confidential information online, including details of plans to sell retirement system real estate.
• Lobbying members of the state Legislature on board issues without approval and in conflict with the pension system’s official lobbyists.
• Spreading on social media accusations of fraud by the pension board and sending letters to the state Attorney General’s Office seeking oversight without presenting evidence.
The board secretary, Detective Leo Rice, said during the hearing that he would be “remiss” if he did not investigate Wiegert’s claims but said he found no evidence to support them.
“If he had looked into it with just a little bit of integrity, he would have found that it was not warranted,” Rice said.
Wiegert also is accused of violating board impartiality rules by posting on Facebook that he wouldn’t support disability claims related to COVID-19 or post-traumatic stress disorder from COVID-19 after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson last year signed an executive order ensuring that first responders, including police, get benefits for injuries related to the virus.
Wiegert posted in December that no officer had yet applied for a COVID-19-related claim but to grant one would be “INSANE.”
”We are opening up Pandora’s box and this has the capability of destroying our pension,” he wrote.
This is not Wiegert’s first time butting heads with police organizations.
He was once president of the police union, formally the St. Louis Police Officers Association, but was expelled from the organization in 2012 for “unauthorized activities,” according to statements from the union, which has never publicly specified what led to the schism.
Around that same time, Wiegert was also in the news for his role lobbying for a pro-cannabis organization in the Missouri Legislature while still serving as a police sergeant. Police Chief Sam Dotson at the time said his actions were “not what is expected of our officers.”
The police union then publicly blasted Wiegert in 2018 when he appeared in ads wearing police union logos in support of an anti-union ballot initiative, Proposition A. The union released a statement at the time encouraging members to “ignore the deceptive ads” and “attempts to mislead voters into believing that cops support Right To Work.” Wiegert told the Post-Dispatch at the time that he believed his former union was trying to inhibit his First Amendment rights.
Wiegert also serves as a Ward 7 committeeman for the St. Louis City Republican Party, according to the local party’s website.
Members of the police retirement system board will make a determination at a future meeting on what more actions, if any, to take on the misconduct case. That could include expulsion from the pension board.