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He promised to 'clean house,’ but turned to crime: The rise and fall of Steve Stenger

He promised to 'clean house,’ but turned to crime: The rise and fall of Steve Stenger


Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger pleaded guilty Friday to three federal counts in a pay-to-play scheme. He will be sentenced Aug. 9. His plea likely ends a political career that spanned more than a decade. Here’s a look at Stenger’s time as a public servant.

Nov. 4, 2008 — Political newcomer Steve Stenger, a lawyer and accountant who grew up in Affton, defeats incumbent Republican John Campisi for the 6th District St. Louis County Council seat representing South County. The race is marked by animosity, with the Democrat and Republican accusing each other of being unethical and unfit for the job.

Oct. 15, 2013 — Pledging to “clean house” and launch a “top-to-bottom audit of St. Louis County government,” Stenger formally announces his bid to challenge 10-year incumbent St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Aug. 5, 2014 — With the strong support of organized labor and longtime former St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, Stenger cruises to victory over Dooley with 66 percent of the vote.

Oct. 23, 2014 — Insurance company owner John Rallo is introduced to Stenger by a close friend, Sorkis J. Webbe Jr., a former St. Louis alderman who was sentenced to prison in 1986 for vote fraud, attempted extortion and harboring a fugitive. Rallo makes his first $5,000 campaign donation to Stenger with the understanding that Stenger would help him get insurance contracts if he won the general election for county executive. Rallo and his associate would go on to donate about $50,000 to Stenger’s campaign.

Nov. 4, 2014 — With the events of Ferguson erupting just a few days after Stenger beat Dooley in the Democratic primary, Stenger defeats Republican Rick Stream by less than 2,000 votes in the general election. Some north St. Louis County Democratic Party groups actively back the Republican Stream in retaliation for Stenger’s defeat of Dooley and his alliance with McCulloch.

August 2015Sheila Sweeney takes over as interim CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership at Stenger’s recommendation. Stenger works with Sweeney to steer contracts and make political hires at the Partnership.

Dec. 1, 2015 — Responding to the issues the Ferguson unrest brought to light, one of the Stenger administration’s first major initiatives seeks to set minimum standards for the roughly 50 police departments across St. Louis County. Creve Coeur, Clayton and 10 other municipalities sue to block it, and a state appeals court eventually invalidates it.

March 1, 2016 — St. Louis County becomes the first jurisdiction in Missouri to enact a prescription drug monitoring program. New County Executive Sam Page, a councilman at the time, and Stenger work together to lead the initiative. Page would later become the leader of the council opposition to Stenger.

May 10, 2016 — The St. Louis County Port Authority awards Rallo a sham $100,000 “marketing” contract to promote the region in the wake of the Ferguson unrest. A month later, Sweeney tacks on $30,000 without board approval in order to pay off political operative John Cross, a close associate of Rep. William Lacy Clay, for his work on Stenger’s 2014 election. The Post-Dispatch reports on the contract in February 2018.

June 21, 2016 — St. Louis County Council introduces legislation to move several county offices to Northwest Plaza, which the Stenger administration says will save $10 million over the term of the 20-year lease. It is one of the first deals to raise eyebrows about Stenger’s relationship with his donors and one of the biggest in his tenure. The owners of Northwest Plaza, Robert and David Glarner, have given at least $365,000 to Stenger’s campaign account. A Post-Dispatch investigation in February 2018 shows that the lease deal could end up costing money, and council members say they were misled about the deal.

April 4, 2017Stenger’s strong support for Prop P, which ends up giving St. Louis County Police officers raises of about 30 percent on average, earns him political support from law enforcement. The St. Louis County Police Association endorses him in his reelection campaign.

May 31, 2017 — Rallo and his business partners buy the first of two large industrial parks owned by a county development agency. Federal prosecutors say the deal was engineered by Sweeney at Stenger’s behest. The Post-Dispatch reports on the deal in August 2017. Stenger claims he has no control over the Economic Development Partnership.

July 24, 2018 — St. Louis County Council members say sources tell them Partnership CEO Sweeney has been followed by federal agents.

Aug. 8, 2018 — Stenger defeats wealthy challenger Mark Mantovani in the Democratic primary for St. Louis County Executive. He cruises to reelection against a little-known Republican opponent.

March 21, 2019 — Federal prosecutors issue a federal subpoena to St. Louis County for records related to county contracts and emails and text messages from Stenger and other staff members.

April 29, 2019Federal indictment of Stenger on pay-to-play charges is announced; Stenger resigns.

May 3, 2019 — Stenger pleads guilty.

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