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ST. LOUIS — Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is seeking a judge’s permission to pay $130,000 in restitution to the county before he’s sentenced next week.

The proposed restitution payment may be as little as one-quarter of the amount Stenger has cost the county. His guilty plea agreement listed between $250,000 and $550,000 in losses attributed to his crimes. The loss amount could include bribes or political donations paid to him, the cost of contracts either awarded or sought through corruption, as well as the cost to taxpayers of insider real estate deals.

County officials were also trying to calculate earlier this month what they thought Stenger owed taxpayers. 

County Executive Sam Page declined to comment on the restitution.

The County Council's presiding officer, Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, said the amount was a "clever legal maneuver" by Stenger's lawyer, Scott Rosenblum.

Did Trakas think $130,000 was enough?

"Of course not," he said. "You're dealing with a legal definition in terms of what's applicable under the charges Mr. Stenger pled guilty to. There's the letter of the law and then there's the spirit of the law. The financial impact of Steve Stenger and his systemic pay-to-play operation is in millions of dollars, not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whether or not that's recoverable remains to be seen."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith, the federal prosecutor who led the Stenger investigation, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

In a court filing Tuesday, a defense lawyer wrote that Stenger needed a judge’s order to pay “restitution in full” before his Aug. 9 sentencing. Rosenblum said in a text message that the restitution amount would be $130,000. He did not immediately respond to follow-up questions.

Stenger resigned in May before pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in St. Louis to three counts of honest services mail fraud. He admitted orchestrating a pay-to-play scheme in which he asked for and received contributions from those seeking to do business with St. Louis County and associated entities, and in return took action on donors’ behalf.

Stenger faces three to four years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. He could use the prepayment of restitution to argue for some amount of leniency.

Stenger donor John Rallo pleaded guilty to federal charges earlier this month. Stenger’s former chief of staff, Bill Miller, and Sheila Sweeney, former CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, have each pleaded guilty to one federal crime and await sentencing.

Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.

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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