At a recent Chesterfield City Council meeting I ran into local attorney Chet Pleban, who was there speaking on behalf of an outlet mall developer and against another.
In the course of talking about fairness and honesty in government dealing with the public, Pleban pointed to another case in which he represents a widow whose property was seized, but she's yet to see the $1 million awarded to her by a jury.
Opal Henderson, 82, is owed over $1 million by several West County investors and the City of St. Louis.
The widow Henderson essentially lost her livelihood and family business when her salvage yard was seized through eminent domain.
The investors, including those from West County, wanted to create the "Icehouse District" for nightlife, Among those involved were Gerald Mark Disper of Ballwin and Town and Country mayor, Jon Dalton.
In March, Pleban (the widow's attorney) was featured on two local TV newscasts and in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, saying Henderson has not been paid since a November 2011 appeals court decision upheld the $1 million jury award.
Pleban said he filed suit in federal court in March, seeking the widow's due, and naming the following defendants: Disper, Dalton, Mayor Francis Slay, the city of St. Louis, the Board of Aldermen, the St. Louis Land Clearance Authority, and three corporations set up to develop the "Icehouse District."
The March 27 Post-Dispatch article said a spokesman for St. Louis Land Clearance Authority claimed they were waiting for Disper-Schmitt, LLC to arrange to satisfy the court ruling and pay Henderson—with interest.
So at the Chesterfield City Council meeting Monday, I asked Pleban for an update on the Widow Henderson's plight.
“She still hasn’t been paid,” Pleban said. He said it always bothered him that Henderson lost her property to a project that was never built.
“They had only raised about one-percent of the actual money needed, but they still went after her and her property,” Pleban told me.
Pleban went on to say that Henderson has been offered the original damages but not the $17,000 in interest. He said she refused, since the appeals court ordered interest to be paid.
Pleban pointed out the role of Disper and Dalton in the project—two West County big shots.
It was Dalton’s law firm, Lewis-Rice, that represented the City of St. Louis Land Authority in the successful eminent domain action on Henderson’s property. Dalton was also on the board of two (out of three) limited liability corporations created for the project.
Henderson had asked for $2 million for her property originally. The investors set aside a line of credit of $250,000 to buy out Henderson.
In the eminent domain action, the courts found the property worth $388,500. A jury ruled it was worth $1 million plus interest. Pay her.
Pleban said he believes the foot-dragging on payment could be a ploy of waiting for Opal Henderson to die.
“The sad thing is that they have taken away this woman's livelihood and that of her sons, and her property,” Pleban said. “And they have not built a single thing."