Steve Stenger and Scott Rosenblum

Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and his attorney Scott Rosenblum, arrive at the Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse to plead guilty to federal pay to play charges on May 3. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

(St. Louis Public Radio) - Federal prosecutors say former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger should get the maximum prison term allowed — nearly four years — for a pay-to-play scheme that began even before he took office in 2015.

In a pre-sentencing memo filed Friday, prosecutors said Stenger, through his extensive criminal conduct abused voters' "trust in a substantial and harmful way. He placed his own personal interests and political ambitions above all else, and engaged in a classic illegal pay-to-play scheme in order to fill his own political coffers to fuel his political campaigns.”

Stenger’s attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said Friday he would file his own sentencing memo next week, and would make no other comment. 

U.S. District Judge CatherinePerry will sentence Stenger on Aug. 9 — federal guidelines say he will face between three and nearly four years in federal prison, although Perry is free to ignore the guidelines and the memos.

Stenger pleaded guilty in May to funneling county business to a campaign donor, John Rallo, in exchange for thousands of dollars in contributors. Rallo has also pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme, and will be sentenced in October.

The sentencing memo makes clear that the scheme started before Stenger was even sworn in for his first term, and that it continued for the entire time he was in office. 

Federal prosecutors also say Stenger was not interested in being county executive beyond how he could help himself. They say he was “checked out,” focusing on his own re-election, and a failed plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County that would have put Stenger in charge of a metro government. 

The memo quotes Stenger as telling his executive staff in a private conversation on Nov. 7, 2018, following the general election, Stenger: “How ‘bout that motherf---ers? I don’t show up to the Council meetings. I don’t do f---ing s---. I’ve been sitting at my house for the past two months f---ing raising money and then won by 20%! The world’s a f---ed up place.” 

Prosecutors say Stenger “let his drive for personal political gain control his actions, as opposed to doing what was in the best interest of St. Louis County,” often threatening to retaliate against county employees who ignored his wishes. For example, he tried to fire the county’s director of administration, Pamela Reitz, because she resisted efforts to direct insurance contracts to Rallo.

He also threatened to hold up legislation authorizing upgrades to the convention center in downtown St. Louis if a well-known minority contractor, who is not named, was going to be involved.

“We’re not going to advance our bill if [contractor] is anywhere near this thing, it’s not happening,” the memo says, quoting a Dec. 3 conversation he had with senior staff. “Not. His f---ing Mom did commercials against me. If we let that go, we’re just the f---ing pussies of the universe. It’s not going to happen. It sends a message to him. F--- you. And to her, f--- you. He just lost out on probably 2% of a giant project. I mean, literally, that’s 7 million dollars to him.”

Although Stenger resigned from office before he pleaded guilty and gave up his law and accountant’s license, the government calls those actions “nothing extraordinary.”

“In a public corruption case such as this, removal from public office or resignation from one’s elected position is the ordinary and inevitable result,” prosecutors wrote. “Similarly, a practicing attorney who commits these types of crimes will have his license suspended and will be barred from the future practice of law.”

County Council letter rips Stenger

In addition to the prosecutor’s recommendations, the court also made public letters from the St. Louis County Council, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the St. Louis County Port Authority and the county’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. Some of the letters painted a shocking picture of Stenger’s behavior.

The letter signed by County Executive Sam Page and the rest of the council described Stenger as a disengaged and boorish presence in county government. It went on to say that his “former staff members are Ieft feeling betrayed, used, demoralized, and disillusioned.”

“The work atmosphere the defendant embraced was more that of a fraternity house than an elected official's office,” the letter states. “The defendant rarely appeared in his office, and would be absent for weeks at a time. He did not respect the dignity of his office. When he did come to work, he typically arrived late in the day wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat, and then he would immediately close the door and spend much of the day playing video games in his office before leaving early.”

The letter went onto say that “on at least three different occasions, each involving a different female employee, the defendant was present during instances of sexual harassment or learned of the instance shortly after the conduct occurred, but the defendant never took investigative or disciplinary action to rectify the situation.”

“Literally laughing in the face of overt sexual harassment by campaign contributors and reporters, the defendant encouraged an atmosphere where victims were without a voice and felt that they could not go to the County Executive to report inappropriate behavior,” the letter continued.

The memo from the federal government said Stenger pondered getting Page fired from the hospital where he works as an anesthesiologist. 

Stenger’s campaign for re-election revolved heavily on derisively tying his Democratic opponent, Mark Mantovani, to former Gov. Eric Greitens — who resigned from office amid accusations of sexual misconduct and campaign finance improporiates. 

Council Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas said the letter was important so the court understand the type of individual with which it’s dealing.

“From a broad perspective, one lesson everyone should learn people with the franchise, that is citizens with the right to vote, need to be engaged in and with their government,” said Trakas, R-South St. Louis County. “You certainly need to be on top of the issues and take the time to vet a candidate. Don’t just accept the advertising or mailers or party identification.”

Councilman Tim Fitch, R-St. Louis County, said it was important to point out in the letter how Stenger violated his oath of office — and the trust of county residents.

“And he was a master at disguising who he was both internally and personally,” Fitch said. “And I don’t blame the voters for falling for it because he was a con man. It was pretty obvious he conned the voters into voting for him.”

Republished with permission of St. Louis Public Radio:

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