Bill Jakob arrived in this small town with an offer to help police curb the community's methamphetamine problem. He had a badge and a gun and told officials he had previously worked as an anti-drug agent in Illinois. He even drove a fully equipped Ford Crown Victoria, which he said was for undercover work.
There was just one problem: Jakob was no cop. He was an unemployed truck driver with a criminal record and had recently filed for bankruptcy.
Now this village of 1,200 people southwest of St. Louis is confronting allegations that Jakob and other officers mistreated and robbed many of the people they arrested.
At least 17 people have sued, including an elderly woman who was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward because she didn't cooperate with the police and a man who said Jakob held a gun to his head and threatened to shoot while the man's child watched.
"Not only did they break in and threaten to kill people and violate their civil rights, they stole money, prescription drugs and legally owned weapons. It's crazy that this could happen in 2008," said attorney Dan Briegel, who represents the woman who was placed in the psychiatric ward for a week.
No one really knows what motivated Jakob, and his lawyer offered little explanation.
Complaints about Jakob's rough treatment of suspects led a reporter from the Gasconade County Republican newspaper to ask the sheriff about the new officer. That's when Jakob's story unraveled.
Jakob claimed he had been a federal agent attached to an anti-drug task force in an Illinois town. But the community he named dissolved a decade ago. And it turned out that Jakob bought the police vehicle from a used car dealer.
"He had credentials. He had a badge. He had a phone number to call for verification," said Gerald Mayor Otis Schulte. "I don't know what else we could have done."
When police called the number Jakob provided, the woman who answered verified he had worked for the task force. The mayor and other authorities now suspect the person at the other end of the phone was Jakob's wife.
Jakob, 36, was arrested in mid-May but has not yet been charged with a crime. His attorney expects a federal indictment later this month. Jakob did not respond to a written request for an interview left at his home 30 miles away in Washington, Mo.
His attorney, Joel Schwartz, said his client's involvement in drug raids was the result of Jakob's poor decisions, but also those of Gerald police.
"We are not saying for one moment that Bill Jakob didn't make serious errors in judgment," he said. "I am strongly suggesting the responsibility needs to be shared."
Jakob first showed up in Gerald in February in hopes of speaking about a job with then-police Chief Ryan McCrary, Schwartz said.
Some arrests he made were illegal
When Jakob's deception came to light, agents from the FBI and the Missouri Highway Patrol descended on Gerald's tiny City Hall. Because he was never a police officer, all the arrests he made without warrants were illegal.
The city fired McCrary — who had sought reserve deputy status for Jakob — along with two other officers in the five-officer department. A sheriff's deputy who accompanied Jakob on two trips to pick up extradited inmates was also dismissed.
A cursory check of public records would have revealed that the mysterious lawman had a checkered past.
In 1994, at age 22, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sex abuse in St. Clair County, Ill., and paid a $100 fine for having sex with an underage girl.
In 2003, Jakob and his wife filed for bankruptcy, listing debts in excess of $180,000. And in 2007, a jury found Jakob liable for $600,000 in damages in the death of a 6-year-old boy who ran onto a rural highway and was hit by Jakob's pickup truck.
The verdict was overturned on appeal. Jakob and the child's mother have since tentatively agreed to a $50,000 insurance settlement.
Seventeen people who were either arrested by Jakob or whose homes were raided by him came forward to file two separate federal lawsuits alleging civil rights violations and excessive force. Another attorney plans to file a third lawsuit on behalf of at least 12 other town residents.
Lawsuits and petitions
Both lawsuits name the mayor as a defendant. The suit brought by Briegel, who is seeking $11 million for each of his 11 clients, also names the town's four aldermen.
A petition seeking to oust Schulte as mayor is also being circulated.
"The town is angry," the mayor said.
The mayor compared his town's predicament — and Jakob's deception — to the story of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., who in the 1960s impersonated a police officer, lawyer and airline pilot. His story was portrayed in the 2002 movie "Catch Me if You Can."
"He was very adamant about not telling anyone anything," Schulte said. "He said, 'I'm here. I'm undercover.' That's it."
The mayor hopes Jakob's case will be a cautionary tale to other communities.
"There's one good thing to come out of it," he said. "Every small town that hears about it is going to be more careful now."