Adolphus Pruitt

Adolphus Pruitt, the president of the St. Louis NAACP, outlined allegations that former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger violated the law around minority contracting at a news conference on September 17.

The president of the NAACP in the City of St. Louis says former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger may have violated federal law relating to minority contracting.

Adolphus Pruitt made the allegations at a news conference on September 17. He said he started looking into whether the county was following the rules after reading a letter the St. Louis County Council submitted to federal prosecutors as part of Stenger’s sentencing.

The letter said Stenger “appointed individuals with histories of opposing minority-owned and woman-owned businesses participation in procuring contracts for County business,” adding that city leaders had threatened to pull the city out of the regional economic planning agency called the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

“It shook us to the core to really have an inside view of the highest realms of county government and what they thought about the effort to have increased inclusion and equity for minorities,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt’s allegations focus on projects for which the county received federal dollars. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that minority participation levels are guidelines, not mandates, officials must make a “good-faith effort” to meet them. 

Pruitt said Stenger actively worked to undermine minority contracting requirements by delaying the closing date on bids so preferred companies could submit their proposals, and wrongfully inflating the costs of contracts so it appeared that minority- or women-owned business were receiving a larger share of work.

“Any effort to not adhere to the federal executive order as relates to contracting is criminal,” Pruitt said. “Any effort whatsoever not to adhere to the county’s bidding process and procedures are criminal.”

Pruitt said he had delivered letters to federal prosecutors and the FBI seeking a full federal investigation. He is also seeking additional records from County Executive Sam Page and the St. Louis County Council. County officials confirmed they had received those requests.

A spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney’s office said she was not sure if the prosecutors who handled the case against Stenger had seen the letter. The FBI would not confirm or deny whether a complaint had been filed.

Stenger was ordered to report to federal prison in North Dakota on Saturday, September 21 to begin serving a four-year term for political corruption. Pruitt said further investigation is still necessary to determine who else may have played a role.

In addition to investigating whether a crime was committed, Pruitt wants the county to fully implement its minority contracting program, which passed in 2018. He’s also asking for an accounting of how much money the unfair practices might have cost the black community.

“At the end of the day, there are damages,” Pruitt said. “There are contractors who should have received some work and they did not get it, and it had an impact on their bottom line, and it had an impact on the bottom line of their workers. We need to fully ascertain what that looks like.”

Pruitt would not comment on the possibility that the NAACP will sue the county over its hiring practices.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann.

Republished with permission from news.stlpublicradio.org.

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