Friday’s 46-month prison sentence for former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger foretells only part of the awful future he faces. For anyone contemplating sympathy for Stenger, we offer one word: Don’t.
Stenger, 47, brought all of this upon himself, fully aware of what he was doing. We know this not just because of the transcripts of federal secret recordings that exposed his intricate plotting of corrupt practices and later marveling at his ability to get away with it, but also because Stenger was a lawyer who was fully aware of his obligation to respect and uphold the law. Instead, he stomped and pirouetted all over it.
The presence on this same page of an editorial devoted to sustaining the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is no coincidence. These were two Democrats who wallowed in the power afforded them by the strong majorities that advanced their promising political trajectories. Rather than use their election mandates, say, to ease poverty, improve low-income housing or address criminal justice reform, they worked behind the scenes to abuse their power, enrich themselves and explore the many ways criminality could serve their goals.
Watching Stenger’s story unfold, it’s almost as if he watched Blagojevich’s downfall and told himself: Steve, learn from Rod’s mistakes — don’t get caught.
Well, he got caught anyway. Stenger used his knowledge of the law and training as a certified public accountant to bury suspect budgetary outlays in a maze of bureaucratic gobbledygook to block voters and watchdogs from detecting the extent of his corruption. But, like Blagojevich, Stenger’s hubris prompted his downfall. He just couldn’t hide his glee at being able to pull one over on his supporters, nor could he restrain himself from trying to exact revenge on those who tried to expose him.
After Stenger finishes his prison term and pays his fines and legal bills, he will still have to rebuild his tattered life and establish a new reputation atop the ashes of the one he destroyed.
If any public sympathy is warranted, it should be reserved for his wife and children, whose lives he has shattered. Two children, and another soon to be born, will miss having their father around during those crucial early years. Their memories will forever be colored by images of seeing their father seated in a stark visitation room dressed in prison garb.
His law and accounting careers cannot be revived. The title of felon will follow him wherever he goes. For all intents and purposes, Stenger faces a well-deserved life sentence of shame. Will he learn from his mistakes and use his prison time to reflect on ways to devote his life to works of compassion and service to the common good? Judging from his past behavior, we won’t be holding our breath.