John Rallo with his attorney

John Rallo (left) left federal court in St. Louis with his attorney on Friday, May 10 after pleading not-guilty to the same three fraud-related charges to which Steve Stenger pleaded guilty.

This is a story about names and initials in a federal indictment.

As the EYE pointed out last week, a full name in a federal indictment is bad news. That is the federal government distributing disparaging information about a named individual. The government does not do this unless it believes it can convict that individual on the basis of the information in the indictment. As stated last week, we should expect more indictments and plea deals for the individuals named in the indictment of Steve Stenger.

Sent for you yesterday, and here you come today. While the ink on that EYE was drying, two people named in the Stenger indictment, Sheila Sweeney and John Rallo, both were indicted on the basis of claims first made in the indictment of Stenger.

Sweeney, the former head of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership that Stenger used to award contracts to “trustees” who fattened his campaign coffers, pleaded guilty to covering up Stenger’s corrupt schemes and not telling law enforcement about it. This was predictable from the Stenger indictment, which made it clear that a number of his accomplices on staff flipped and started cooperating with the feds, paving the way for future plea deals.

As stated last week, it was the naming in full of so many staff accomplices in Stenger’s indictment that would have led his experienced defense counsel Scott Rosenblum to steer his client toward a plea deal. When Stenger told Rallo to pay him via Sweeney or another staffer, he told Rallo, “That’s what they do,” meaning: their purpose on Earth was to collect money for him. Clearly, at some point, their purpose on the job became to help the government collect evidence on this brazen little fraud from Affton.

Rallo was charged with the same crimes that Stenger pleaded guilty to: bribery, mail fraud, and honest services fraud. (It takes two to tango.) Unlike Stenger and Sweeney, he pleaded not guilty. This could mean any of a number of things. Maybe he is not guilty; certainly, he remains innocent until the government proves its case or Rallo pleads to it. Maybe he is guilty but thinks the government overstated its case in the indictment and can be beat in court. Maybe he is stupid; certainly, there is evidence of that in the transcripts of him (allegedly) scheming with Stenger and his minions who turned on him. Maybe Rallo has some good information to trade up on to help the feds bring down someone bigger than Stenger and he needs time to talk to the feds about that before making his plea.

What’s in initials? 

That brings us to some of the initials in the Stenger indictment. When someone’s initials appear in a federal indictment, it could mean a number of things. Most importantly, an indictment is a persuasive document, and to persuade a judge and jury it has to be legible. Initials helps readers (judges and jurors) keep track of who is who when supporting evidence is presented to them. Having one’s initials appear in an indictment is not necessarily evidence or suggestion of guilt. For example, victims and witnesses often are referred to by initials only in indictments to protect their privacy; who could forget K.S. and P.S. of Eric Greitens indictment fame.

However, people who are not a victim or a witness whose initials pop up in an indictment might want to call a good defense attorney. The feds do not have a case against them (yet), or their names would have been included in the indictment. But, clearly, the feds know who they are and have some evidence that they were messing around with criminals while those criminals were engaging in the criminal activity that got them indicted.

Several people whose initials are included in the Stenger indictment have been named fully by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other news organizations. “J.C.” was identified as John Cross, a veteran Democratic operative in St. Louis. “D.P.” was identified as Darryl Piggee, former senior staffer for U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay and current attorney for Stone, Leyton and Gershman. And “S.S.” was identified as Steve Stone, principal at Stone, Leyton and Gershman.

The EYE believes these identifications to be accurate and is not aware that Cross, Piggee or Stone have denied the claim. Surely, they would have denied the possibly incriminating and certainly embarrassing identification if it were not true; and, just as surely, they would keep their mouths shut if the identification was accurate, since the feds know who they heard on the wiretap and would find these individuals’ denials of their identities to be, at the very least, interesting.

A number of political operatives and armchair pundits — including Glenn Burleigh and Damon Jones (son of The American’s own Mike Jones) — have taken to social media to cast aspersions on this paper for not following the Post-Dispatch in its identification of Clay, Piggee, Cross and Stone from the Stenger indictment. The implication is that this newspaper is covering up for Clay, whom Burleigh claimed (without evidence) must be the real target of the federal investigation that nabbed Stenger, Sweeney and counting.

Two responses.

One, these critics don’t read this newspaper very closely. Unlike the Post, which sources stories on “swirling rumors” of corruption (at least when the official is black), this newspaper does not heat up rumors or scraps of incidental information in indictments into allegations of corruption. It’s a dirty game, and those who play it are welcome to their cheap thrills.

Two, these critics don’t know how to read an indictment. If the feds had a case against Cross, his name, not initials, would appear in the indictment. And nothing in this indictment is even remotely incriminating of Clay. Clay does not appear in the wiretap or text messages the feds collected. He does not appear by name or even initial in the indictment. He is identified as a “public official” whose name Cross used with Stenger staff in an effort to get paid by Stenger. Cross may have been telling the truth when he said that Clay was interested to see that Cross got paid; he may simply have been using Clay’s name in an effort to get paid. The connection to Clay is hearsay.

Clay told the Post that he knew nothing of this contract that went to Cross and had nothing to do with it. There is not enough evidence against Clay in the indictment of Stenger to reasonably doubt this denial.

Rallo’s not guilty plea may be all the indictment hawks have to go on in hoping for a bigger kill than Stenger coming from this investigation. For that, we may blame Sam Page for leaking a federal subpoena to the Post-Dispatch and the Post for reporting it. At that point, the lights were on and all the dirty deals were off, and the feds were forced to wrap up their case.

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