ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Milton “Skip” Ohlsen has pleaded guilty to four felonies stemming from a 2008 bombing in Clayton which injured Clayton attorney John Gillis.
Under the plea bargain, Ohlsen will be sentenced to 20 years pending approval from a judge in December.
The explosion on October 15, 2008 rocked downtown Clayton and left investigators puzzled.
Ohlsen, a former Democratic campaign strategist, was indicted last year by a federal grand jury on one felony count each of transportation of explosive with intent to injure; malicious use of an explosive devise; use of destructive device to commit a crime of violence, felon in possession of an explosive; and possession of an unregistered destructive device.
The bomb burned Armstrong Teasdale attorney John Gillis when it exploded in a thunderous fireball near his car, an Acura TL. But the real target was Richard Eisen — like Gillis, Eisen is a lawyer, who also drove an Acura TL and usually parked just one floor apart in the same garage.
Eisen was well known to Ohlsen. The former Husch Blackwell Sanders attorney represented Ohlsen’s ex-wife in a bitter divorce battle. Eisen also clashed with Ohlsen in a separate case, when he obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent Ohlsen from being near a Maryland Heights man’s estranged wife and child. Evidence indicated Ohlsen allegedly built the bomb to seek revenge on Eisen.
Police later released a grainy parking garage surveillance video that showed a hooded man lurking behind a fistful of helium balloons, as he carried a gift basket believed to contain the bomb into the parking garage. Police called the explosive “sophisticated;” the blast that injured Gillis’ face, arms and hands was strong enough to shake nearby buildings. A mass evacuation ensued with a flood of lawyers, office workers and Ritz Carlton hotel staff in white aprons filling the streets.
A manhunt immediately began, including the FBI’s plea for help from the public. In December of 2008, federal agents searched Ohlsen’s apartment for evidence connected to the bombing, but said nothing officially to indicate Ohlsen was a suspect.
Authorities were able to put Ohlsen in custody for an unrelated case, charging him with mortgage fraud and illegal possession of a firearm; Ohlsen carries a previous conviction for drug trafficking that prohibits him from owning guns (in this case, two semi-automatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition). Ohlsen’s earlier clashes with the law also include several lawsuits for non-payment, targeting his now-shuttered mixed-martial arts promotions company and his work as a campaign consultant for local political candidates.
As a Missouri Democratic party operative, Ohlsen was connected to Jeff Smith’s 2004 primary campaign against against Russ Carnahan and several others. Ohlsen was reportedly involved in the production of campaign fliers attacking Carnahan. The fliers landed Smith in prison, when it was discovered that Smith lied on federal election documents about having paid for them. The scandal also led to the downfall and conviction of another Smith campaign worker — former State Representative Steve Brown.