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Friday, January 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Missouri mayor keeps $1,000 bill; owner cries foul

PINE LAWN, Mo. — The mayor of this St. Louis suburb fancied a rare $1,000 bill that was seized in a traffic stop, so the town wrote the driver a check and the politician kept the cash.

Not a fair trade, according to the driver, a retired trucker who said he carried the bill for two decades.

"If you take a personal item from someone, you should give it back," Curtis Smith Sr., 71, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

County police and prosecutors found that Pine Lawn officials broke no laws. But a spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor said he would have misgivings.

"It's a bad idea for a city official or politician to have access to evidence," Don Schneider said. "It creates the appearance of impropriety. We don't advocate doing business that way."

Calls to City Hall yesterday seeking comment from Mayor Adrian Wright were not answered.

Experts said collectors would pay $1,300 to $3,500 for the bill, depending on its condition. The government took the denomination out of circulation in 1969.

Smith's note was seized in April when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Smith said he was sleeping off a few drinks in his truck on a lot he owns.

Police said the mayor watched as they counted Smith's money, including the $1,000 bill, several $100 bills and a few $2 bills.

Wright said he wanted the bill "as a novelty item, as few people have ever had the opportunity to see a bill in that denomination." In its place, 10 $100 bills were deposited in an account for seized drug assets, the report said.

County prosecutors declined to charge Smith and ordered the money returned. The city issued Smith a check for $3,231, but he said officials repeatedly refused to return the rare bill.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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