After months of claiming innocence, former Rock Hill Mayor Bob Salamone pleaded guilty last Friday to three misdemeanors relating to his taking of illegal commissions from a company overseeing the city’s pension fund.

Originally charged with acceding to corruption, a felony charge, Salamone instead pleaded guilty to attempting to accede to corruption, committing a prohibited act by a public official and failing to file a financial interest statement.

Salamone was sentenced to two years probation and was instructed to pay back the commissions of $33,841 within one year or face two years in jail.

The sentence, imposed by St. Louis County Circuit Judge Melvyn W. Wiesman, also included 200 hours of community service.

“I learned the hard way that I needed to be careful to begin with as to who I sought advice from because lack of knowledge regarding the law and statutes is no defense,” Salamone said on Wednesday. “That will be my mantra for the rest of my life. I cannot make any other comments regarding the disposition.”

Salamone, 48, has paid the city $15,000 which, according to Mayor Julie Morgan, will go back to the pension fund, as will the remaining $18,841.

Salamone was elected mayor in April 2002. In October 2003, the Rock Hill Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance naming Nationwide Insurance Company as administrator of the city’s pension plan.  Nationwide was a client of Salamone’s company, Financial Strategies, Inc.

After Salamone resigned in August 2004 to take a job in Quincy, Ill., a Rock Hill city official discovered that approximately $33,600 had been paid to Salamone through a commission paid by Nationwide. The city then turned the matter over to then State Auditor Claire McCaskill and St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch.

The city attempted to reach an agreement with Salamone without having to bring suit.

“I want to stress that this money is not missing from the city’s general fund. This behavior was not endorsed by the board of aldermen. It was a conflict of interest laid out in the Missouri statutes, and what Bob Salamone did was wrong,” Morgan said earlier this year.

Salamone maintained his innocence throughout the legal process, saying that he had done nothing wrong and that he would be exonerated in court. In July 2005, he told the Times, “Be careful what you report because the case is still in the process of litigation and I look forward to my day in court.”

In an audit held in September 2005, McCaskill found that Salamone received compensation exceeding $33,600 while acting as the pension plan “selling agent.”

In a written response to the audit allegations, Salamone claimed that the “failure of the city to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities to its uniformed employees resulted in a $1.3 million deficit over a 30-year actuarial period.”

He claimed that while he was hospitalized for three weeks, four documents relating to his compensation were “fraudulently signed using my name.”

Morgan said that the city is “happy to see that justice has been advanced in this matter that has caused great harm to the City of Rock Hill over the last several years.”

“The city is also pleased that Mr. Salamone will be required to pay restitution that will benefit the City of Rock Hill Pension Plan. As a City we continue to diligently forge ahead amidst the many obstacles that we have encountered regarding matters such as these involving the former Mayor,” Morgan continued. 

City Administrator George Liyeos said the city could not comment further since it is pursuing a civil suit “to recover damages.” A judge is expected to decide on Jan. 10, 2007, whether to allow the civil case to go forward.