Subscribe for 99¢

ST. LOUIS — Federal prosecutors say former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s “right-hand man” should receive 15 to 21 months in prison, not probation, for his “reprehensible” conduct.

Bill Miller, 54, took “marching orders” from Stenger, but then, on his own, directed subordinates to carry out Stenger’s schemes to award his political donors, according to a government sentencing memo filed Friday.

Miller, who served as chief of staff, is one of three county officials charged in connection with Stenger’s pay-to-play schemes to award county business to political donors.

Miller called it “the art of staying in power,” the memo says.

Miller’s lawyer, Larry Hale, requested probation in his Aug. 26 memo, citing an unspecified major illness and Miller’s “limited role in the offense.” Miller did not participate in Stenger’s fundraising activities nor communicate with donors, Hale wrote. He simply passed on Stenger’s orders to award the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership’s lobbying contract to John Bardgett & Associates, Hale wrote, and then voted to approve the selection of the company.

Miller did not financially benefit, Hale wrote. He also pointed out that Stenger’s campaign had been awarding Bardgett & Associates with lobbying contracts in exchange for contributions since November 2014, nearly three years before Miller was hired.

Miller also risked termination if he failed to follow Stenger’s orders, Hale wrote, and that threat was particularly effective, given the “severe” financial hardship he faced during six months of unemployment prior to working for Stenger.

Miller has also voluntarily surrendered his law license.

Hale added that Miller was the least culpable of those charged, pointing out that Sheila Sweeney, the former chief executive of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, got probation. Hale said four others who participated in the award of the lobbying contract have not been indicted.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said in his memo that Stenger hired Miller as chief of staff “because he believed that he could trust him and rely on him to carry out his scheme. Miller succeeded Jeff Wagener, who had not been successful in pressuring subordinates to award contracts to donors, Goldsmith wrote.

“Wagener would never threaten people the way Miller currently does,” a St. Louis Economic Development Partnership executive once told the FBI, the memo says.

Miller, on his own, threatened the job of the partnership’s in-house legal counsel, who was working on a legal opinion about whether the St. Louis County Council could replace Stenger’s allies on the St. Louis County Port Authority. He also lied to FBI agents about a plan to “buy off” a local elected official so she would change her vote and support a donor’s redevelopment project, the memo says.

And Miller was angling to become chief of staff of a unified city-county government, Goldsmith wrote.

Goldsmith scoffed at the health claims, writing that “many white collar defendants who appear before this Court often claim to suffer from this very same disorder once they learn they are under federal investigation and face the possibility of imprisonment.“

Sweeney was sentenced Aug. 16 to probation and fined $20,000 for misprision of a felony, or failing to report Stenger’s schemes. She faced four to 10 months in prison under the guidelines.

Stenger was sentenced Aug. 10 to 46 months in prison and fined $250,000 after pleading guilty to three counts of honest services fraud and paying $130,000 in restitution.

Stenger, a Democrat, had admitted a series of schemes to reward campaign donors, including businessman John Rallo.

Rallo has also pleaded guilty in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 15.

Miller, who pleaded guilty in May to aiding and abetting the deprivation of honest services via wire fraud, faces 15 to 21 months in prison under the recommended federal sentencing guidelines.

Before joining the Stenger administration, Miller was an administrative law judge from January to June 2017 and acting policy director for then-Gov. Jay Nixon from May 2015 to January 2017. His family owns the Missourian Publishing Company in Washington, Missouri.

Get high-interest news alerts delivered promptly to your inbox.