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Steve Stenger arrives at federal court expected to plead guilty to charges

Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (left) arrives at federal court in St. Louis with his lawyer Scott Rosenblum on May 3. 

Friday, May 3, 2019 Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

CLAYTON — Federal prosecutors say 37 months in prison is not enough for former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, and the $130,000 that he’s seeking to repay to county coffers “does not come close to identifying the overall harm caused to the residents of St. Louis County.”

“In no way should defendant’s restitution payment be considered ‘payment in full’ for the intangible harm he has caused through his criminal scheme,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith wrote in a memo filed late Tuesday.

Goldsmith, fighting back against Stenger’s defense attorneys, also asked U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry for a stiffer sentence for Stenger in Tuesday’s memo.

Goldsmith was responding to a memo from Stenger’s lawyers, which asked for the low end of the recommended federal sentencing guidelines of 37 to 46 months in prison. Stenger has already written a check for $130,000 that his lawyers say represents the restitution owed to the county; his prepayment, the lawyers said, should afford him a break in sentencing. They also cited his accomplishments in office, his quick guilty plea, and the surrender of his law and CPA licenses.

A judge on Wednesday moved Stenger’s sentencing hearing, set for Friday afternoon, to a larger courtroom.

In the three-page memo filed Tuesday afternoon, Goldsmith said that Stenger should be sentenced at the high end of the range. Goldsmith upped his request from Friday, when he simply asked for a sentence within that range. Goldsmith wrote that “the actual harm” is “difficult, if not impossible, to quantify,” in a case involving a corrupt politician.

The $130,000 represents a sham contract awarded to Stenger donor John Rallo, who has also pleaded guilty in the case. 

In Stenger’s guilty plea hearing, he admitted that the loss amount due to his crimes was between $250,000 and $550,000. He admitted directing others to help Rallo and his partners purchase two parcels of land in Wellston for millions of dollars less than the county had paid to prepare them for sale. The St. Louis County Port Authority says there were at least $399,000 worth of contracts that “produced little or no benefit” linked to Stenger or his co-defendant and former port authority head Sheila Sweeney, plus $5 million in “unnecessary and ill-conceived grants” and at least $250,000 in consulting, auditing and legal fees due to Stenger’s frauds.

In Tuesday’s filing, Goldsmith also says  Judge Perry should show no leniency for Stenger because he has no prior convictions, saying that is common in political corruption cases and has already been included in calculations arrived at in Stenger’s sentencing range.

Goldsmith’s original sentencing memo painted Stenger as a crass and vindictive bully who dismissed and sometimes ridiculed the needs of county residents and others, and only focused on Stenger donors and his political career.

In a letter that accompanied his sentencing memo, Stenger wrote that he has “a deep and constant feeling of remorse” for his crimes. His wife, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child, said in her own letter that Stenger has lost weight and sleep.

Stenger pleaded guilty in May to three counts of honest services fraud and admitted using county resources to aid political donors in a pay-to-play scheme. Sweeney, Rallo and Stenger’s former chief of staff, Bill Miller, have also pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

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Also on Tuesday, the St. Louis County Council voted to strip Stenger of his pension, which would have paid him $1,660 a month after he turned 60 and $1,963 a month after he turned 65.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger pleaded guilty to pay-for-play charges: Some background reading

Here's a collection of Post-Dispatch stories looking at some of the controversies surrounding the St. Louis County Executive.

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