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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 — Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, in a letter to the judge that will sentence him Friday, said he has a “a deep and constant feeling of remorse” for his pay-to-play fraud schemes that betrayed county residents.

Stenger wrote that his motivations for originally running for a county council position in 2008 were “simple and pure. I hoped to make life better for those in the community in which I was raised.” Instead, he admitted that he put “winning political fights and amassing political capital and campaign contributions” ahead of county residents.

Stenger also apologized to constituents and employees and officers of county government, the St. Louis County Port Authority and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Stenger’s letter was among a series filed by his lawyers Sunday along with a sentencing memo that asks for the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines of 37 to 46 months in prison. The letter does not respond to a memo from prosecutors filed Friday that paints Stenger as a mercenary politician and vindictive bully.

The defense memo suggests that Stenger, 47, should get no more than 37 months, citing his remorse, his accomplishments in office, his prepayment of $130,000 in restitution, and the forfeiture of his legal and accounting licenses. Stenger, they say, started a prescription drug monitoring program to help fight the opioid epidemic, supported a sales tax increase for county police and made efforts to win a criminal justice reform grant for the University of Missouri.

The memo also mentions that his wife is pregnant with the couple’s third child, due in September. The other two children are 5 and 3.

Most of the letters speak of Stenger’s remorse, and several discuss the hard work he put in while younger, singing, working in fast-food restaurants and sweeping floors to put himself through law school. Only one is from a nonrelative, local businessman and Stenger friend of 26 years, Mark Berstein.

Stenger’s wife, Allison, said he is supportive of family and friends and was generous with his time while a lawyer in private practice, sometimes discounting fees for those who could not afford them. Stenger, she wrote, is “profoundly remorseful.” He has lost significant weight and “has many sleepless nights due to his overwhelming regret.”

He pleaded guilty quickly, she said, to minimize the impact on the public and spare the county “from prolonged distraction and turmoil.”

Unresolved in the letters and competing sentencing memos is what Stenger will owe to the county for his crimes. The $130,000 represents county money paid to Stenger donor John Rallo, who has also pleaded guilty to fraud in the case. Stenger directed others to award a “sham” marketing contract of $130,000 to a Rallo company.

But he also helped Rallo and his partners to purchase two Wellston properties for millions of dollars less than the county paid to prepare them for sale. A letter from the St. Louis County Port Authority that accompanied the government memo said there were at least $399,000 in other contracts that “produced little or no benefit” awarded at the behest of Stenger or former authority head Sheila Sweeney. The letter says the authority canceled $5 million of a total of $7 million in “unnecessary and ill-conceived grants,” but couldn’t cancel the rest for legal reasons. They also spent at least $250,000 on consulting, auditing and legal work to address Stenger’s frauds.

Stenger resigned in May before pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in St. Louis to three counts of honest services mail fraud and admitting a pay-to-play scheme that awarded donors.

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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