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Prominent and controversial St Louis attorney Charles E Polk, who among other things served as Master of Ceremonies when John Ashcroft was appointed Attorney General, has been charged with bilking funds from clients and a public agency.

High-profile attorney Charles E. Polk Jr. evaded paying more than $470,000 in income taxes and bilked large sums from a public agency and his own law clients, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.

Polk, who has been at the center of several controversies in recent years, was charged late Wednesday in U.S. District Court on 23 counts, including tax evasion, bank fraud, money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen funds.

He embezzled more than $150,000 from the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District in 2000, while he served as its general counsel, the indictment claims.

Polk also is accused of cheating a partner in a venture aimed at representing victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in potential legal claims against the U.S. government. The partner paid $382,000 to Polk and his wife, Cheryl Polk, on the understanding it would be used for that purpose, but instead the Polks spent it on personal items, the indictment said.

“The allegations in this indictment reflect an attorney run amok,” U.S. Attorney Jim Martin said. “He is alleged to have defrauded the IRS, his clients and his own law firms.”

Polk, 44, of Creve Coeur, did not respond to the charges when he appeared in court Thursday morning. A magistrate judge released him on a $50,000 bond, but Polk was taken directly to Lincoln County to answer to a 2002 ticket for driving without a license. He could not be reached for comment.

In the past, Polk has vigorously denied any wrongdoing in his dealings at the sewer district and in Oklahoma City.

He told the magistrate he expects attorney Paul D’Agrosa to represent him. D’Agrosa declined to comment, saying Polk had not formally engaged him.

In 2001, Polk had acted as an adviser to John Ashcroft during his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate to become U.S. attorney general. In appearances on TV talk shows, Polk defended Ashcroft against claims that as a U.S. senator he had pursued a racist agenda in opposing the nomination of Missouri judge Ronnie White to the federal bench.

Polk later served as master of ceremonies in Washington when Ashcroft was sworn in as attorney general.

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