Missouri Public Corruption Ring Disrupted
County Executive Enacted Pay-to-Play Culture in Local Government
A county executive in Missouri who brazenly and illegally steered government funds to his political donors has been convicted and sentenced as a result of an FBI investigation.
St. Louis County Executive Steven Stenger, who served in the role from 2015 to 2018, repeatedly directed his staff to illegally rig county contracts to benefit his political donors.
In the fall of 2014, while still campaigning to be county executive, Stenger met St. Louis businessman John Rallo, who made a $5,000 donation to Stenger’s campaign. Rallo explicitly told Stenger he was “tired of giving money to politicians and not getting anything in return,” according to court documents. Stenger assured Rallo that he would steer county business to him in exchange for the donation—a violation of federal law.
“When Rallo donated with the clear understanding that he would receive county funds in return, that’s where it crossed the line into public corruption,” said Special Agent Andrew Ryder, one of the agents who worked the case out of the FBI’s St. Louis Field Office.
After Stenger was elected, Rallo continued to donate to him, believing he would receive a county insurance contract in return. Rallo also recruited other donors, who in total gave Stenger’s campaign about $50,000.
When staff thwarted Stenger’s initial efforts to steer county insurance contracts to Rallo, Stenger and Rallo focused on getting Rallo a contract for marketing services. Although Rallo had no experience in marketing, Rallo told Stenger he could get a famous television personality he knew to do promotional work. Stenger told his staff Rallo was a donor to his campaign, and he expected Rallo’s company to get the $100,000 contract.
When the county put the marketing job out for bid, it received proposals from companies with actual experience. The St. Louis Port Authority, which controlled the funds, issued the contract to Rallo at the county executive’s direction. Stenger’s staff even tacked an additional $30,000 onto Rallo’s contract—money that was illegally funneled to another of Stenger’s supporters.
“Citizens should be able to expect honesty from their public officials, and we hope this case will send a message to future officials who might consider engaging in these illegal activities.”
Andrew Ryder, special agent, FBI St. Louis
“It was a sham contract. No actual work was done for the county,” Ryder said.
Stenger later facilitated a land deal for Rallo and worked to get a $149,000 county contract for another donor—all in exchange for donations.
After these deals began to get local media attention, several cooperators came forward to the FBI to provide information on the illegal activity. After search warrants and interviews with cooperators exposed the crimes, Stenger and Rallo agreed to plead guilty to bribery and mail fraud charges. Stenger resigned from office.
“We had a lot of cooperation in this case from St. Louis County employees who were concerned about what was going on. The culture in the government was so toxic that people were willing to talk to us about it,” said Special Agent Lindsay Wegge, who also worked on the case.
In August 2019, Stenger was sentenced to 46 months in prison. In March 2020, Rallo was sentenced to 17 months in prison.
For the investigative team, the case sends a message that public corruption—one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities—will not be tolerated.
“Citizens should be able to expect honesty from their public officials, and we hope this case will send a message to future officials who might consider engaging in these illegal activities,” Ryder said.