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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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St. Louis Jewish Light

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Security expert Scott Biondo forges ties, helps keep Jewish community safe

Scott+Biondo.+
Bill Motchan
Scott Biondo.

To unwind at the end of a long day, Scott Biondo watches movies, especially ones about sports. His favorite is the 1986 film “Hoosiers,” which tells the story of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team in 1954 that makes the state championship.

“I also like disaster movies,” he says. “I know people get hurt in those movies and it’s kind of sad to see that happen, but I like to see the rescue and the triumph. What I do not like, what I don’t need to see, are movies about real-life . . . I get that every day.”

To be sure. Biondo is community security director at Jewish Federation of St. Louis. He looks out for the safety and well-being of more than 60 organizations and 75,000-plus people working in the greater St. Louis Jewish community. His responsibilities also extend to Jewish entities in outstate Missouri, southern Illinois and western Kentucky.

His life could easily turn into a plot for a movie in both the worst ways and the best ways. People get hurt. Rescue. Triumph. In “real life,” as he says, he does his utmost to prevent harm from happening.

His role as security chief encompasses enforcing security policy, protecting dignitaries, assessing vulnerabilities, monitoring threats, investigating hate crimes and conducting training of all kinds. He regularly assists organizations — both Jewish and other religious denominations — when they apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And he oversees a staff of 10 community security officers.

“A typical day is not typical,” says Biondo, a compact man with slicked-back silver hair, ruddy complexion and ready smile.

Nor is he. Biondo, as his surname implies, is not Jewish. At age 60, he is well seasoned in security, but his interests and passions extend way beyond public safety.

He is a professional drummer, the latest in a long line of percussionists in his family. He is a genealogy buff. You can find a 750-word writeup on just that in a 2006 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It notes that he created a 125-foot family tree after which he organized a family reunion attended by more than 200 relatives.

He is also a father to eight children, grandfather to 18, the youngest of whom was born two weeks ago, and husband to Lynne-Dale Biondo, who he has been married to for 33 years.

And in his spare time…

Biondo on the job during the celebration honoring Israel's 75th anniversary.
Biondo on the job during the celebration honoring Israel’s 75th anniversary.

He sat down with me to talk about his day job, which he has held since 2020. He started with what’s typical.

“I can expect to have to review the community security officers’ reports on any given day. I can expect to have to respond to community requests for assistance and/or information on any given day. And of course, I have projects I know are forthcoming, like special events, galas, community-wide meetings, that kind of thing.”

He keeps track of those events and more on a giant white board in his office at Federation.

But it was the atypical that brought him from working as a security consultant for Federation to full-time and more.

In 2017, as Biondo was working with Federation executives on security measures for its new headquarters building, the nearby Jewish Community Center received a bomb threat.

“I asked if I could come along,” Biondo recalls as Federation executives met with Lynn Wittels, the J’s president and CEO, to plan a response.

“I was watching at first,” he continues. “I just sensed that I should offer some input and asked if they would mind. Lynn was like I would love for you to offer some suggestions.

“So we worked the process out and it worked out well. I think Don (Hannon, Federation’s COO at the time) saw that my background was not only varied on paper but that I had a much broader skill set than just physical security during construction projects. I had done more than that in my previous life.”

Practicing intelligence-led security

Biondo with Federation’s Amanda Miller, Jennifer Baer and Sari Levi at the 2023 Pride Parade.

Biondo’s hiring was part of a massive change in the way federations approached security. In 2018, while Biondo was consulting, only 25 of 150 federations nationwide employed a community security director. Now there are 93.

“I didn’t think the job was for me, but I was happy to help them build it,” Biondo says, adding that his own private security business that he began in 2009 — the Scott Biondo Detective Agency — was doing well. He wasn’t looking to make a change.

“It was a ‘Field of Dreams’ kind of thing. I had a vision of how to build something like this that is effective, productive and sustainable. The problem was that I knew to do that it would actually take doing that. This was something that needed to be built out in real time and built out in person.”

What Biondo “built” and continues to grow are trusted relationships with hundreds of employees working in every corner of the St. Louis Jewish community. Today, if they or their colleagues encounter anything the least bit suspicious — an email, letter, phone call, social media post, or anything threatening or hate-related — they know to contact Biondo who starts investigating immediately.

“Depending on what I learn, the next step is dissemination of information coupled with recommendations. I would then put that information out to the St. Louis Fusion Center (a collaboration of local law enforcement and other emergency management agencies to combat terrorism), the FBI, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), police in the jurisdiction where the threat came from and police where anyone targeted lives.

“This preemptive information allows me to do intelligence-led security,” Biondo says. “The goal is to have as many eyes as possible looking out for potential problems to circumvent those problems and mitigate the threat prior to an incident.”

Brian Herstig, president and CEO of St. Louis Jewish Federation, says Biondo is so skilled at what he does that his colleagues at other federations look to him as a resource.

“What Scott does for us in some ways is immeasurable because he has a very specific job, but he uses it as a springboard to essentially create relationships with people,” says Herstig. “He’s not just walking in and checking off boxes. He knows his clients. He understands their audiences. He knows how to ask the questions in order for him and his staff to be able to do more than just the basic job of protecting people. It is about making people feel comfortable and safe and no one does that better than Scott.”

Drumming to his own beat

Martin “Scott” Biondo comes from a long line of first responders. His father was a police officer and a firefighter, and his maternal grandfather was a police officer who ended his career as a ranger at the St. Louis Zoo.

Biondo also comes from a long line of drummers.

“My father was a musician, a drummer, who played in a big band called the Jack Stevens Orchestra,” says Biondo, who grew up in north St. Louis County. “My great grandfather was the first of our family to come to America from Sicily and he was a master musician. He played about 13 different instruments. All of my great grandfather’s children, including my grandfather, were musicians.”

Scott started playing drums professionally at an early age, sometimes making as much as $50 a night.

“Because my father was a firefighter, he worked some 24-hour shifts. Very often, those shifts would fall on a Friday or Saturday night, which were the big music nights. So instead of having a back-up guy because my father wanted to keep his place in the band, he offered me to fill in.

“Now, the funny part of the story is that I’m 12 years old.  And the drums are the worst piece of equipment to have to tote around. We had a station wagon specifically for that purpose and my mother drove me to band jobs.”

After graduating from Hazelwood Central High School, Biondo attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he majored in criminal justice. He worked as a police officer in Jefferson County for 18 months but wasn’t sure he wanted to build a career in law enforcement.

“I actually knew a little bit about the security world from people I knew and thought it was pretty fascinating. I had an opportunity through contacts, a friend of my father’s, who was working with the Breckenridge Hotel Corporation, and he needed a No. 2 guy. So I was hired and started as director of security for Don Breckenridge’s hotels.”

Rescue missions abroad

When the hotels were later sold to independent operators, Biondo decided to stay on and took over security operations at the DoubleTree in Chesterfield. It was there where he met Robert Burke, a former deputy director of the U.S. Secret Service. Burke had been hired to head corporate security at Monsanto Company, which had a number of hotel and meeting rooms earmarked at the DoubleTree for visiting executives.

Burke wanted some seasoned St. Louis-based security and investigation pros on the Monsanto team and eventually turned to Biondo and two others — Michael Intravia and Don Kissell — who had also worked security at Breckenridge. Together, as part of a new security and executive protection company begun by Intravia and Kissell called Allied Intelligence, the three men were hired and charged with Monsanto’s corporate security work. That included protecting their highest-level executives wherever they traveled, in or out of the country.

Biondo was 26 years old at the time.

“Allied begins to get a tremendous reputation because of the work that we’re doing. And here, once again — the central theme of my life is relationships,” he explains. “Bob Burke says I want to help you guys grow the company so I’m going to introduce you to all my Secret Service friends who have now taken jobs like mine at major corporations across the country.

“And so we start doing work for other big corporations and that includes everything from working with large energy companies to protecting them during the coal miners’ strikes to working with other companies that do work in foreign countries laying pipelines. Just about anything you can imagine. We got very well known for providing executive protection.”

Through Allied, not only was Biondo protecting CEOs and presidents of major companies, he also was protecting ambassadors, foreign ministers and all kinds of dignitaries.

He recalls the day Allied received a phone call from an American woman who had been in a marriage with a foreign national. Her ex-husband was Mexican and had taken their children to Mexico without her knowledge and he didn’t have custody.

“He had violated their custody agreement and taken them across the border. That case started us becoming the go-to guys in terms of kidnapping cases where U.S. citizens were involved.”

Perhaps the most notorious of these kidnap-and-rescue cases — and one that garnered much publicity — took place in 1988 and was the subject of an ABC TV “20/20” program. A mother from Sioux Falls, S.D. had contacted Allied Intelligence to help rescue her four children, ranging in age from 7 to 13, from a cult outside of Bangkok, Thailand called Children of God. The cult allegedly sanctioned children sexual abuse and incest. The children’s American father also was part of the cult.

The mother had escaped three years earlier with her fifth and youngest child but said the cult leader wouldn’t let her take the others. She eventually obtained help from various organizations and individuals including a U.S. senator, Child Find, Inc., the U.S. State Department and her church, whose members helped raised the money needed to hire Intravia and Biondo of Allied, to find and recover her children.

In November 1987, a circuit court judge in South Dakota signed temporary orders granting the mother full custody of her children in Thailand. That’s when Intravia and Biondo went into high gear, spending several weeks clandestinely tracking the father and kids until the investigators finally located them and were able to extract the children. Much of this was captured by “20/20,” which aired the episode in July of 1988. In addition, Intravia wrote a book about the case called “Desperate Measures.”

Love, marriage & is eight enough?

It was Biondo’s expertise in these sorts of kidnapping cases that landed him as a speaker at a four-day conference in Portland, Ore. in the late 1980s. Attending the same conference was a single mom from Red Deer, Canada, a city in Alberta, named Lynne-Dale Gellert. She was there because she was training to be an exit counselor, helping people to leave cults.

“We sat at the same table at lunch. There were 11 men and me at the table and Scott was directly across from me,” she recalls. “We kept looking at each other, trying not to make it obvious but it was hard. Basically, it really was love at first sight.

“When I went out with Scott – he asked me out for that evening — I thought I better get this off the table right away, so I pulled out a picture of me with my four kids and said, ‘I am a package deal. This is my life and I love my children.’ Amazingly, he didn’t hesitate to continue to see me when I was back in Canada and the rest is history.”

The two had a long-distance relationship for about a year and a half before she was able to move here, and they could build a life together.

Biondo adopted Lynne-Dale’s four children and together they had three more. When their eldest daughter was 14, the Biondos took in one of her friends who was a foster child because he had no other place to go. He became Biondo Sibling No. 8.

“Matt was the oldest, he was 10, when Scott and I got married,” says Lynne-Dale Biondo. “They don’t have a good memory of their (biological) father, he had nothing to do with the children. They all always considered Scott their dad.”

Jason Biondo, 37, echoes his mother’s sentiments. At 4 years old, he was the youngest of Lynne-Dale’s four children when she and Scott married.

“Scott is my dad in the truest meaning of the word,” says Jason, who is a married father of four, and works as a chiropractor and director of fitness at Palm Health in Ladue. “I truly admire his selflessness, his ability over the years to make his kids a priority despite his schedule and workload.”

Putting a security plan into play

Biondo created a security plan as his first order of business after becoming full-time security director. He noticed that Federation had one security officer greeting people at a front desk, but no one at any of the other buildings on the Jewish community campus. Where was security there?

“The plan included that we develop a patrol that covers the entire 56-acre Millstone campus — this was our biggest target, this campus that everyone knows houses so many Jewish facilities and organizations. The very first thing we did was transition the security force into a mobile first-responder security force for this campus.

“After we built this program, I started to recognize that these patrols could service organizations beyond the campus and at a cost much more appealing and beneficial to the rest of the community. And so we began doing that.”

Also, from the get-go, Biondo got involved in the Jewish community’s construction projects, doing for the reimagined St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, for example, what he did for the new Federation building — consulting on every aspect of the build, every detail, to ensure staff and visitors will be safe.

“We’ve been involved in dozens of community construction projects, right now we’ve got four,” Biondo says. “I work with the people on the ground, with the general contractors, with the various vendors. In some cases, it might be, ‘Hey guys, I noticed that the bollards seem to be a little bit too far apart, we need to rethink this’ or ‘Have you noticed there is no quick way to an exit or nowhere to shelter in place?’ We go through everything.

“The real key to these construction projects is that all the parties are working together to create the safest environment so we’re not building things that then require retroactive safety measures. It’s always best and less expensive to build them into these projects to begin with.”

Biondo also did a thorough assessment of what the community’s needs were when it came to safety and security. He learned most employees hadn’t received much education in security preparedness at all. Most had never undergone active-shooter training or even knew what vulnerabilities existed in their workplace, let alone how best to address them.

So he went about visiting every Jewish school, early childhood center, synagogue and agency to get to know the staff, build relationships, figure out their security needs and determine how best to conduct training — everything from active shooter to situational awareness to cybersecurity.

“I felt strongly that our programs have to be specific to the entity,” Biondo says. “I have 60 different active shooter programs that get updated continuously because they are specific to the organization. Every building is different. I train them specific to their space.”

To communicate with all the various Jewish organizations locally, Biondo created a security liaison group where he sends key people from each organization updated security reports as he becomes aware of certain situations. This way, the liaison person can best determine how to use the information within their organization. Biondo always ends these missives the same: “Stay vigilant, Stay safe, Scott.”

Another security tool that has proved helpful is the Secure Community Network (SCN), a nonprofit started by Jewish Federations of North America, which serves as the central organization dedicated to the safety and security of the American Jewish community. Staffed with analysts with backgrounds in the military or private intelligence, SCN works across 146 federations, 50 partner organizations and over 300 independent communities as well as with other partners in the public, private, non-profit and academic sector to track antisemitic extremism and Jewish hate activity. The organization, while created after 9/11, has grown significantly since the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018, from a staff of five to more than 75 employees around the country.

While more resources and security tools are at Biondo’s disposal today than ever before, he’s still deeply troubled by the increasing number of threats, vandalisms, assaults and worse on the Jewish community in St. Louis, and around the country.

“The Jewish community has a real threat — it comprises 60% of attacks on religious organizations yet makes up only 2% of the population,” he says, admitting that he sleeps with his phone next to his pillow. “I think you are a fool in my line of work if you don’t have a healthy dose of fear. Fear is not a bad thing. Fear will help you make better decisions.”

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About the Contributors
Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.