Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that Rochelle Walton Gray abstained from voting.
CLAYTON • The St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday to publicly release the federal grand jury subpoena roiling county government, saying residents have the right to know what is happening in their government.
The subpoena, dated March 21, seeks records of every contract and grant the county has awarded since Jan. 1, 2015 — Steve Stenger’s first day as county executive.
It also seeks records of communications between Stenger — or any current or former county official or employee — and any current or former employee, board member or attorney of the St. Louis County Port Authority, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership or St. Louis County Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.
The Post-Dispatch obtained a copy of the subpoena from a source and published a story about its contents Tuesday afternoon. The St. Louis County Council had given County Counselor Peter Krane a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday to provide it with a copy. Krane’s office provided the subpoena to council members on Tuesday, and the council voted 5-0 at its regular meeting Tuesday night to release it. Hazel Erby and Rochelle Walton Gray abstained.
The text of the subpoena tracks closely with what Council Chairman Sam Page told the Post-Dispatch on March 24 that he recalled reading in the subpoena during a meeting with Krane two days earlier.
Stenger attended the council meeting but did not make any statements about the subpoena. Councilman Mark Harder, R-7th District, asked Stenger how he would “ensure the impartiality and openness” in complying with the subpoena. Stenger redirected the question to Krane, who said, “I’m doing it. I’m handling the production of the material.”
Harder asked Stenger how many cellphones he had and whether he had turned them over to Krane. Stenger said he was “not going to engage” Harder.
Harder then asked when Stenger became aware of the federal investigation. Stenger said it was a legal matter and that politicizing it was not going to help the county.
After the public comment portion of the meeting, Stenger left through a back exit with no public access. Outside his locked office on the ninth floor of the county government building, his aides told Post-Dispatch reporters that he was not taking questions.
Stenger said last week he did not think he was a target and characterized the subpoena as a “routine” matter.
When a reporter asked Harder after the meeting why the council released the subpoena, he said, “Because I think you guys need to know, as well as the residents of St. Louis County, what this is all about. This is serious information, these are serious allegations. We’ve always been a very transparent council, and we want to make sure that everybody knows what their government, what they’re paying for, is involved in.”
The subpoena asks for specific records on a single deal that has been the focus of a Post-Dispatch investigation. It seeks all communications between Stenger — or any current or former county official or employee — and any member of Wellston Holdings LLC, including John Rallo, Doug LeClair and Corey Christanell.
The group, which donated around $40,000 to Stenger’s political campaign, bought two Wellston industrial parks from the St. Louis County Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority for a little more than $525,000.
Stenger has repeatedly denied any involvement in the 2017 deal. But in an interview in December, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership official who oversaw the sale told the newspaper that Rallo’s relationship with Stenger was central to the bidding process, and that he had been told not to find other bidders for the sites.
Christanell and Rallo were also part of a group that received a $489,000 low-interest loan from a Partnership-staffed entity to help them purchase a Creve Coeur building. A Rallo firm also received a $130,000 marketing contract from the St. Louis County Port Authority.
The Post-Dispatch reported last year that Rallo had been in communication with former Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney during the bid process for some of the economic development deals and changed the wording of two of the bids he submitted. In December, the Partnership board forced out Sweeney. Former employees told the newspaper she often made decisions at the behest of Stenger or his aides.
The Partnership said last week that it had also received a federal subpoena, as had the Port Authority and LCRA, which it staffs. The Post-Dispatch has requested a copy of that subpoena but has not yet seen it.
Christanell previously told the Post-Dispatch that he never spoke to Stenger about the Wellston properties and had not received a subpoena. He, Rallo and LeClair could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
The three-page document commands St. Louis County to turn over the records by April 10 to the grand jury room at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, as part of “an official investigation being conducted by the Federal Grand Jury for the Eastern District of Missouri.”
The subpoena seeks exhaustive information about each contract, including notes and memos, emails and texts from any division of county government; policies and rules governing the awarding of county contracts; and any record that shows how those decisions were made during Stenger’s tenure.
It wants records that can identify any federal funds received by the county and the sources of those federal funds.
In addition, it seeks the complete personnel files and personnel records for Stenger aides Patti Hageman and Lance LeComb, and three employees whom Stenger appointed shortly after he took office — Lou Aboussie, John Saracino and Sean Rhode.
The subpoena also seeks records and documents from all public and closed council meetings, all requests the county has received under the Missouri public-records law and all responses to those requests.
Jacob Barker of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.