ST. LOUIS (AP) — A businessman accused in a pay-to-play scheme with St. Louis County’s former top elected official pleaded not guilty Friday to three federal bribery charges.
John Rallo, who is accused of making payments to former County Executive Steve Stenger’s campaign in exchange for county contracts going to Rallo’s companies, entered the plea during a brief hearing in St. Louis federal court. His attorney, John Rogers, didn’t immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment afterward.
Meanwhile Sheila Sweeney, who was appointed by Stenger to head the county’s economic development partnership, was due in court Friday to plead guilty to unspecified corruption charges.
Stenger, a Democrat, pleaded guilty May 3 to charges related to trading favors for campaign donations. Prosecutors say Rallo’s businesses benefited from that scheme.
Stenger resigned on April 29, which was the day his indictment was announced. He’s due to be sentenced Aug. 9. Federal guidelines suggest a sentence of 3-4 years.
The indictment accuses Rallo, 53, of scheming with Stenger starting in October 2014, a month before Stenger was first elected county executive after serving on the county council for six years. Prosecutors allege that the crimes continued through 2017.
It isn’t clear if anyone else associated with Stenger, 47, will face charges. The county executive is the top elected official in St. Louis County, Missouri’s largest county with about 1 million residents.
In his plea, Stenger admitted to taking actions to ensure that county contracts went to two Rallo-owned companies, Cardinal Insurance and Cardinal Creative Consulting, and 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.
Stenger was re-elected in November despite the cloud of investigations hanging over him. The county council had launched an ethics investigation after months of reports by the Post-Dispatch.
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 meetings and phone calls and obtained call records, including emails and texts.
Democratic Councilman Sam Page was named interim executive after Stenger’s resignation. He will serve out the remainder of the four-year term.