Stenger appointee to plead guilty; donor also indicted

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A week after former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, two people connected to him face their own court hearings.

Sheila Sweeney, former head of the St. Louis County Economic Development Partnership, is scheduled to plead guilty Friday to an unspecified charge. In a separate hearing Friday, businessman John Rallo faces arraignment.

The hearings were announced Thursday by the U.S. attorney’s office in St. Louis, but a spokeswoman said charges and details about the alleged crimes will remain sealed until Friday.

Stenger, a Democrat, pleaded guilty last Friday to bribery, mail fraud and the theft of honest services. The plea came just four days after his indictment was announced and he resigned. He faces sentencing Aug. 9. Federal guidelines suggest a sentence of 3-4 years.

In Stenger’s case, federal prosecutors said Stenger took actions to ensure that county contracts went to two Rallo-owned companies — Cardinal Insurance and Cardinal Creative Consulting. He also allegedly took action to ensure that Rallo’s Wellston Holdings LLC obtained options to buy two properties in the town of Wellston that were held by the county’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

Stenger also was accused of ensuring that an unnamed company obtained a state lobbying contract from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, and taking actions to conceal the illegal conduct.

Sweeney, a Stenger appointee, was forced out by the partnership’s board of directors in January. Her removal followed St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigations that, among other things, raised questions about procurement practices and the awarding of contracts to Stenger’s campaign donors.

Sweeney did not immediately respond to a phone message. No listing could be found for Rallo.

Stenger’s activities were under scrutiny for more than a year. The St. Louis County Council launched an ethics investigation in 2018. The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the IRS criminal investigation unit had been looking into Stenger’s activities since early 2018. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said investigators monitored or recorded several meetings and phone calls and obtained call records, including emails and texts.

The U.S. attorney’s office said Stenger sought to “secretly use his official position to enrich himself through soliciting and accepting campaign contributions from individuals and their companies in exchange for favorable official action, and for individuals and their companies to enrich themselves and their companies by secretly obtaining favorable action for themselves and for their companies, through corrupt means.”

St. Louis County is Missouri’s largest, with about 1 million residents.

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