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Department of Justice will not bring charges in Sansone St. Louis County contract case

Department of Justice will not bring charges in Sansone St. Louis County contract case

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Charlie Dooley loses to Steve Stenger

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley addresses his supporters from the podium as he concedes the primary election to his opponent Steve Stenger at Dooley's campaign watch party at the Hilton Garden Inn in Berkeley on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. Also pictured are Dooley's daughter Stephanie Dooley (left) and wife, Sandra Dooley. Photo By David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • No charges will be filed against Gregory Sansone, the former chairman of the St. Louis County Police Board, whose company received a $3.7 million county construction contract, federal officials announced Tuesday.

“Our investigation disclosed no evidence of wrongdoing,” said Richard Callahan, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Missouri.

SM Mechanical, the company established by Sansone, a developer with no experience in the heating and air conditioning field, received $3.7 million to provide heating and cooling work in the county police lab that opened in November 2013.

The case became an issue in the Democratic primary election for county executive, in which Steve Stenger ended Charlie Dooley’s 11-year tenure.

Dooley, the county’s first African-American chief executive, characterized the Sansone inquiry as a “race card” played by Stenger and his supporters — chiefly County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch — to appeal to a largely white electorate.

“I lost the election because of it,” Dooley told reporters Tuesday afternoon at the conclusion of a County Council meeting — his last in a 20-year tenure in county government. “I lost all of the non-African-American townships in this county, which I’ve never done before.”

The FBI was brought into the case in August 2013 by then-Police Chief Tim Fitch, the county law enforcement official directly accountable to Sansone and the board overseeing police department affairs. Fitch said at the time he wanted to “clear the air or hold anyone involved in criminal activity accountable.”

Fitch in an interview Tuesday said Dooley “didn’t need the crime lab issue to cost him the election.”

“He would have lost either way because there was a multitude of issues over 10 years, like trying to close the parks, trying to raise taxes; people weren’t just upset about the crime lab,” Fitch said. “He still has culpability in this, and just because there are no federal charges doesn’t mean it wasn’t improper. The public could see when the police board chairman is awarded a multimillion-dollar county contract, whether it’s criminal or not is irrelevant.”

Dooley’s office had researched the issue and said the arrangement did not violate the county charter because SM was a subcontractor, not hired by the county but by its general contractor.

The county charter reads in part, “No officer or employee of the county, whether elected or appointed shall in any manner whatsoever be interested in or receive any benefit from the profits or emoluments of any contract, job, work or service for the county.”

Callahan said the investigation determined that neither the county agreement with ICS Construction of St. Louis to serve as the primary contractor nor the subcontract received by SM Mechanical conflicted with federal law.

“In a perfect world investigations are conducted behind closed doors so reputations are not necessarily sullied or damaged,” Callahan said. “Obviously, this investigation had a more public aspect to it because the chief of police requested it.”

Fitch said all of the controversy could have been avoided had Dooley listened to him when he questioned Dooley about Sansone’s involvement in the project in January 2013.

“It was clear to me all along that this was a violation of the charter; what was not clear was how did they get there,” Fitch said. “And that’s what an investigation is for.”

Dooley, however, laid blame for the Sansone probe on politics.

Stenger, he said, “bought into” the accusations that Sansone used his position to improperly gain the crime lab subcontract and “Bob McCulloch piled on. And they all knew there was nothing to the allegations. They all knew it wasn’t true.”

Stenger, the county executive-elect, and McCulloch could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Sansone has said there was no conflict with the contract and his position on the police board. He could not be reached Tuesday.

Sansone eventually resigned from the board, sparking further controversy as replacement candidates nominated by Dooley for the Sansone seat and two other vacancies either withdrew their names or were rejected by the County Council.

McCulloch, once a Dooley supporter, entered the fray by calling on the incumbent not to seek re-election. The prosecutor then backed Stenger, an endorsement that contained accusations of corruption in the Dooley administration.

Dooley’s Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls criticized McCulloch on Tuesday, saying, “This is a guy that took 10 weeks to consider all the evidence in the (Michael) Brown case before drawing a conclusion, but he immediately concluded SM Mechanical was corrupt just because there was a complaint.”

With no resolution of the case by the FBI, the Sansone saga carried into 2014 with the unexpected departure of Fitch.

In the run-up to the August primary, the allegations of corruption against Dooley resurfaced in a Stenger television advertising campaign that featured McCulloch leveling further accusations of corruption.

On Aug. 5, Stenger handily defeated Dooley.

Dooley on Tuesday said he feels vindicated by the backlash that grew out of the Brown grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.

McCulloch “is a liar,” Dooley said. “The truth is not in him. And the whole nation knows that now.”

Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Steve Giegerich is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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