DALLAS - A federal investigation into Missouri bond dealings appears stalled six months after it began.
In January, the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis subpoenaed records from more than a dozen firms to probe their political and financial links with issuers. Some investment bankers expected investigators to quickly conclude there was nothing criminal in local bond deals.
But six months later, the investigation is at a standstill. Of four bankers interviewed, none had been questioned by the government and all said they have assumed the investigation is over.
"When everybody in town started getting a subpoena, you naturally assume that the earth is about to move," said one St. Louis investment banker. "But you find out that real life is not like the movies, where everything happens in an hour."
Federal sources say the government has so far assigned only one investigator part-time to read through hundreds of pages of expense reports and other records turned over by firms who have done bond deals in Missouri since 1989.
Since the initial wave of subpoenas in January, investigators have followed up only once, when they subpoenaed similar travel records from St. Louis city officials. That spurred rumors that the investigation would focus on whether public officials were being reimbursed for travel expenses already paid for by brokerages.
While copies of the subpoenas show that the government is looking into financial and political links between bond firms and their clients, those subpoenaed admit they have no idea of what is going on.
"I quit thinking about it a long time ago," said one senior banker whose firm was subpoenaed.
While the U.S. attorney's office declines to discuss the probe, one federal official said that months or years of investigation may produce little tangible result.
"The problem is that campaign contributions are made routinely and there are probably subtle expectations with the contributions," said the federal source, who declined to be identified.
"But to take it from there to a federal crime, like bribery or extortion, is hard to do without an insider," the source added.
So far, the government probe has focused on records obtained in January by a grand jury.
According to a copy of one subpoena, the government is looking at brokerage records of political contributions, consulting fees, loans, honorariums, salaries and wages, contract fees, and any expenses benefiting unnamed officials of underwriting clients since 1988.
The reason for the investigation is unclear. The subpoenas have not targeted any individual and appear to have been served on almost every firm involved in bond underwritings in Missouri during the past four years.