ST. LOUIS (CN) – St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger resigned Monday after being indicted by a federal grand jury in a pay-to-play scheme. The 44-page indictment cites many damning text messages.
Stenger, 47, appeared in court with attorney, Scott Rosenblum, to issue a not-guilty plea on Monday afternoon. Stenger, a Democrat, did not respond to reporters’ questions after the hearing.
He is charged with three counts of honest services bribery and mail fraud.
The indictment, which came on Thursday and was unsealed Monday, claims that Stenger sought to help a campaign donor, John Rallo, and his companies get insurance contracts from the county in 2015 and 2016, and a 2016 consulting contract through the St. Louis County Port Authority.
Stenger also helped another Rallo company, Weston Holdings LLC, get options to buy two properties which were held by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, according to the indictment.
Rallo made repeated donations to Stenger with the understanding that he would get contracts from the county or associated entities, prosecutors say.
When contacted by a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the property deal, the indictment states, Stenger and Sheila Sweeney, a member of Stenger’s staff, advised Rallo not to speak to the media.
“No, don’t meet him,” Sweeney texted back. “Trying to make the Steve & you connection.”
Prosecutors claim Sweeney instructed Rallo to remove his name from public filings connecting him to Cardinal Consulting as a way to cover Stenger.
In May 2018, Stenger also told Rallo not to talk to Post-Dispatch reporters, according to the indictment.
“You can’t talk to the f—ing press,” Stenger told him, the indictment states. “I bent over f—ing backwards for you, and I asked you one simple f—ing thing, don’t talk to the f—ing press. And I’m telling you, you’re gonna f—ing kill yourself, alright, you’re gonna kill yourself with this shit.”
Lawyers for Sweeney and Rallo said Monday they would not comment to the Post-Dispatch.
The indictment was part of a yearlong undercover investigation into the head of Missouri’s most populated county.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith told reporters that the investigation was timed so that it would not have any impact on Stenger’s bid for reelection in 2018, pursuant to Department of Justice policy. It is the result of a significant amount of meetings and phone calls, along with thousands of emails and texts.
Stenger resigned shortly after the indictment was unsealed. In his resignation letter to County Counselor Peter Krane, he wrote that stepping down “is in the best interest of our County and my family.”
The County Council, in an emergency meeting Monday night, named Sam Page as Stenger’s replacement.
If convicted, Stenger could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. There is no date set for his next court appearance.