Partners: network

Charles Theodore Berger Sr., William Alexander Field III, Paul Hurley, Laurent J. Torno Jr.

Active 1967-1976

Firm Notes

Berger-Field-Torno-Hurley, Architects and Planners, Incorporated, (BFTH), had its headquarters in Saint Louis, MO, during the period 1967 until 1976. In 1974, the firm had an address of 77 Maryland Plaza, Saint Louis, MO, 63108.

This firm succeeded Berger-Landrum-Field Architects and Planners, Incorporated, which dissolved in 1967, when Harold J. Landrum left to start his own firm. (See Architectural Record, vol. 142, p. 163.) The firm enjoyed considerable success, designing commercial and institutional projects, mostly in the Saint Louis vicinity. It did, however, design a cardboard carton manufacturing plant for the Weyerhaeuser Corporation, near Lacey, WA, in 1970.

During 1977 and 1978, the US Department of Justice accused BFTH of paying kickbacks to a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, Richard J. Rabbitt, (1935-2011). Rabbitt attained a great deal of influence during his service between 1960 and 1976 in the Missouri House, and was elected Speaker of the House for five years, between 1967 and 1972. Paul Hurley, who became a partner in BFTH in 1967, was a close friend of Rabbitt, and asked for his assistance in obtaining State of Missouri construction contracts on behalf of BFTH.

BFTH's involvement consisted of ten charges of mail fraud within an overall prosecution of "eleven counts of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (1976), and three counts of extortion and one count of attempted extortion." According to "In 1965, Paul Hurley, a partner in the St. Louis-based architectural firm of Berger-Field-Torno-Hurley, Architects and Planners, Inc. (Berger-Field), and a long-standing personal friend of Rabbitt, approached Rabbitt on behalf of the firm and sought his help in securing architectural contracts for state construction work. Rabbitt offered, for a fee of ten percent from any resulting work, to introduce the firm to people who might be able to secure architectural contracts for it." (See, United States of America, Appellee, v. Richard J. Rabbitt, Appellant, 583 F.2d 1014 (8th Cir. 1978), US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit - 583 F.2d 1014 [8th Cir. 1978].) Rabbitt's dealings with BFTH were only part of the criminal accusations against him, and in 1978, the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit threw out the portion of the case related to eleven charges of mail fraud, ten of which were associated with BFTH's activities with Rabbitt. It upheld four other convictions for mail fraud and extortion in the case.

While the charges involving BFTH were dropped against Rabbitt, the publicity surrounding this case could not have helped BFTH's public image. The Missouri Board of Architects, Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors suspended the licenses to practice architecture of three partners of BFTH in 1979, with Laurent J. Torno, Jr., receiving two years of probation only. An article in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch stated: "A state board has suspended the license of St. Louis architect Paul J. Hurley for his part in seeking state contracts from Richard J. Rabbitt, the former Missouri House speaker who was convicted in 1977 of fraud and extortion. But the Missouri Board of Architects, Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors decided against suspending the license of Laurent J. Torno Jr., another architect associated with Hurley. Torno was put on probation for two years, said board Chairman Paul R. Munger of Rolla, Mo. Hurley's license was suspended for one year following a hearing Monday in St. Louis, Munger said. The suspension will be followed by four years of probation. Hurley was a member of the architectural firm of Berger Field Hurley Planners and Architects Inc. He testified in U.S. District Court under immunity from prosecution that the firm had paid 10 percent kickbacks to Rabbitt on state design contracts. The board in March suspended the license of the firm's principal member, Charles T. Berger, for one year, and ordered four years' probation. William A. Field, Berger's partner, will lose his license to practice architecture for six months when Berger's license is restored, Munger said. Field also will be on probation for 4 years. The state board had filed complaints against the four after their testimony in federal court helped convict Rabbitt in 1977. The complaints were first heard by an administrative hearing commissioner, who upheld them. The four then had the opportunity to present evidence at disciplinary hearings. The board decided Torno's involvement was 'somewhat different,' Munger said. 'As I understand it, Torno did not seek immunity from prosecution, and while he knew what was going on, he had tried twice to disassociate himself from the firm, and finally did succeed in extricating himself from the situation.' The four were charged under a Missouri law allowing the board to 'revoke licenses for unprofessional or dishonorable conduct.' Munger said the law defines dishonorable conduct as including 'obtaining or attempting to obtain or competing for architectural work or projects by paying or donating money or other things of value therefore, including the rendering of free architectural services.' The board also filed a complaint against Berger's firm, and obtained an order removing the practice of architecture from its name and articles of incorporation, Munger said. The firm is now known as Berger Field Inc. Munger said its members could practice architecture individually. Rabbitt was sentenced to four years in prison on the extortion and fraud charges, and began serving the term in March in the federal minimum security institution at Lexington, Ky.” (See “Board Suspends License Of St. Louis Architect,” Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/15/1979, p. 97.)

The firm became known as "Berger Field, Incorporated," after the departure of Torno and suspension of Hurley.

PCAD id: 6320