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Stenger sentenced to nearly 4-years in prison and $250,000 fine for pay-to-play scheme

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ST. LOUIS – Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger will spend the next 46 months in prison for his role in a pay-to-play scheme. He also faces a fine of $250,000. Stenger appeared in US District Court Friday for sentencing. The prison term and the fine were in the maximum range recommended.

Stenger asked to serve his sentence in Pensacola, Florida. The judge will put in a recommendation that he serve there. His second choice is Yankton Federal prison in South Dakota.

His wife Ali is expected to give birth to the couple's third child in mid-September. He is expected to surrender to authorities on September 21st after spending a week with the newborn getting his affairs in order.

FOX 2 reporter Andy Banker says that the judge sentenced Stenger to nearly four years in prison because that is about how long his scheme lasted. She said, "This was your everyday life as county executive."

The former county executive was indicted in late April on three counts of honest services bribery/mail fraud. He resigned from county government that day.

Dr. Sam Page was named Stenger's successor.

A federal grand jury had previously subpoenaed records from St. Louis County. They requested that Stenger provide his call history, texts, and emails with current and former county employees, related to contracts awarded by county departments. They also asked Stenger to provide information regarding employment contracts for about seven senior staff members and related contracts awarded by the county to investors who donated to Stenger's campaign.

The indictment said Stenger took steps to provide county contracts to people and businesses that made campaign contributions.

Stenger had faced anywhere from 37 to 46 months in federal prison. Federal prosecutors wanted the max.

The Department of Justice released this statement about the federal case into Stenger's pay-to-play scheme:

Steven V. Stenger, 47, of Clayton, was sentenced to 46 months in prison, a fine of $250,000, three years’ supervised release, $130,000 restitution and a $300 special assessment related to his guilty pleas to three felony counts of honest services bribery/mail fraud. He appeared in federal court today before U.S. District Court Judge Catherine D. Perry.

According to court documents and statements made in court, beginning during October 2014, even before he was officially elected County Executive, and continuing through December 31, 2018, Stenger engaged in a systemic scheme to defraud and deprive the citizens of St. Louis County of their right to his honest and faithful services by soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for county contracts and grants. The purpose of the scheme was for Stenger to secretly use his official position to enrich himself through soliciting and accepting campaign contributions from individuals and their companies in exchange for his favorable official action in issuing government contracts and grants to those political donors. Stenger directed members of his executive staff, including his chief of staff and chief of policy, and various other high level county employees to take steps to ensure that his political donors would win in the bidding process for various county contracts. In doing so, other companies who expected a level playing field in the county’s bidding process were victimized, as were the approximately one million residents of St. Louis County. For over four years, Stenger treated important county contracts and grants as something to barter away as if they were his own personal thank you gifts.

One businessman from whom Stenger solicited and received political donations was John Rallo. In exchange for campaign donations and several fundraising events, Stenger directed the county’s Director of Operations to award John Rallo and his company, Cardinal Insurance, insurance contracts through St. Louis County during 2015 and 2016. Further, Stenger directed the Chief Executive Officer of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, Sheila Sweeney, to award John Rallo and his company, Cardinal Creative Consulting, a 2016 consulting contract for $130,000 through the St. Louis County Port Authority. Additionally, Stenger took official action to ensure that John Rallo and his company, Wellston Holdings, LLC, obtained two properties in Wellston, Missouri, which were held by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority of St. Louis County during 2016 and 2017. Stenger also admitted to steering a 2019 - 2021 state lobbying contract from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to a company identified as “Company One” in exchange for political donations and fundraising efforts from the company’s owner. Stenger took steps to hide, conceal and cover up his illegal conduct, including making false public statements and directing others with knowledge of his scheme to make false public statements.

"Steve Stenger abused his power as an elected official to benefit himself," said Special Agent in Charge Richard Quinn of the FBI St. Louis Division. "Had the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office not stopped Stenger from misusing taxpayer dollars for his personal gain, he would have continued to run St. Louis County into the ground. He will now have years in federal prison to reflect on the cost of his greed.”

“Public service is a public trust,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith. “Through his illegal pay to play scheme aimed at filling his own political coffers, the former County Executive shattered that trust. The residents of St. Louis County and St. Louis County government employees have suffered immeasurable harm as a result. The Department of Justice will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute public corruption wherever it exists, and work to restore the public’s trust in its elected officials.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Postal Inspection Service investigated this case with the assistance of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations.

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