JEFFERSON CITY - The man who once held the highest state governmental position ever held by a black in Missouri pled guilty Thursday to a felony crime that could force him out of office.
Sen. J.B. "Jet" Banks, D-St. Louis, pled guilty in Cole County Circuit Court on a single charge of filing a false state income tax return.
In return for his plea, perjury charges were dropped against the 30-year legislative veteran and former majority leader of the Missouri Senate.
Under Missouri law, Banks will be forced from office as soon as a sentence is imposed -- a process that includes a pre-sentence investigation that could take several months.
The charge to which Banks pled guilt carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Banks had been charged with filing a false state income tax return in the calendar years 1994 and 1995.
Since the charges were filed last spring, Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Callahan said he offered to drop all other charges for a plea of guilty to a felony account.
"In my belief, justice would be served by a plea of guilt to either charge," he said.
In a meeting with reporters in his Senate office, Banks declared his innocence, saying that he had paid someone to prepare his tax returns.
The St. Louis city senator refused to answer most other questions, except to attack the news media for stories involving his legal problems.
Banks has been in the legislature since 1969. Lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, expressed surprise at Banks' plea as word spread through the statehouse hallways.
"I would hate to see anything go wrong because he has paid his debt to society and been a good state legislator as well as a public servant to the entire state of Missouri," said Rep. Betty Thompson, D-University City.