ST. LOUIS (CN) – A disgraced former St. Louis County executive was sentenced Friday to 46 months in federal prison for his role in a pay-to-play scheme that awarded government contracts to campaign donors.
Wearing a navy suit, Steve Stenger, 47, was stoic for most of the sentencing hearing as he appeared with his attorney Scott Rosenblum. Stenger’s voice briefly wavered as he talked about going to prison in a prepared statement read before the court.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry’s sentence was at the upper range of the punishment guidelines. She also tacked on a $250,000 fine based on Stenger’s financial ability to pay, on top of the $130,000 in restitution that he already paid.
Perry called it a sad day for democracy.
“This is a sad day,” she said moments before handing down the sentence. “It’s especially a sad day for the citizens of St. Louis County. They deserved better from you.”
In a lengthy statement to a packed courtroom, Rosenblum pleaded for a 37-month sentence, which would have been on the low end of the guidelines.
Rosenblum pointed out that Stenger immediately confessed, pleading guilty eight days after being indicted by a federal grand jury and saving the resources and cost of trial. He argued that his client showed contrition by voluntarily stepping down as county executive once the charges surfaced and by voluntarily surrendering his law and accounting professional licenses.
“Steve Stenger has accepted his responsibility in substantial fashion,” Rosenblum told the court. “It is difficult to measure one’s contrition … I can tell you his contrition is real and it is in his heart.”
Perry did honor a request by Stenger that he not report to prison until Sept. 21 because his wife is pregnant with their third child. She is due on Sept. 13.
“Obviously Mr. Stenger has lived a very productive life,” Rosenblum told reporters outside the courthouse. “That is obvious by everything that was said in court. I have no doubt that he’ll take this period of incarceration to better himself…as you see he’s a very hard working man who’s been very successful and I have no doubt that he’ll be successful in his next endeavor.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith argued for the higher sentence, citing the four-year length of the crime.
“He lied repeatedly to the public,” Goldsmith told the court. “It was a day in, day out activity for the defendant all in an effort to further his schemes.”
Goldsmith declined to comment after the hearing.
Tim Fitch, a St. Louis County council member and former county police chief, lauded Perry’s ruling.
“I think it was a healthy dose of justice,” Fitch said. “I was surprised at the sentence at the upper in the range and I was very surprised at the $250,000 fine. But I do think that the victims of this corruption, and you heard the judge talk about them, the 1 million people of St. Louis County, can rest assured that our government still works right. Even though we’ve seen corruption in this case, when it is exposed and things are done right, this is how it ends.”
Stenger pleaded guilty in May to three counts of honest services fraud and using county resources for political gain.
He admitted to helping 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.
Sheila Sweeney, a member of Stenger’s staff, Rallo and Stenger’s former chief of staff, Bill Miller, have also pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme and await sentencing.
On Tuesday, the St. Louis County Council voted to strip Stenger of his pension, which would have paid him $1,660 a month after he turned 60 and $1,963 a month after he turned 65.