Sometimes crime does pay.
That’s the lesson courtroom observers learned from the Aug. 16 sentencing of former St. Louis Economic Development CEO Sheila Sweeney.
Or should we say lack of sentencing, because Sweeney somehow got away with probation for covering up former County Executive Steve Stenger’s sprawling corruption scheme to exchange campaign donations for county contracts.
Stenger himself will serve four years in prison for his crimes, and Sweeney should also spend time in an orange jumpsuit for having the sheer moxie to rip off the taxpayers who were already paying her $500,000 a year. That salary in itself should have been a crime, but we digress.
If you still think crime doesn’t pay in St. Louis County, here’s some math for you: Take home nearly $2 million over four years from the taxpayers while secretly stealing from them on the side. When caught, wear a wiretap. Retire at 62 to your home in Ladue after you’re forced out. Pay a $20,000 fine. Oh, and get probation. I bet that showed you!
You might argue that perhaps damage to a reputation would be a logical side effect of public corruption, and reason enough for others not to do it.
But dozens of Sweeney associates — including Rep. Bob Burns, D-Affton, who called her his “dear friend” — wrote the judge letters leaping to her defense. When she wasn’t helping a county executive conceal his massive public corruption scheme for years, Sweeney’s friends claimed she was an unselfish do-gooder with a “heart of gold” (actual quote from a sentencing letter), rivaled only by Mother Teresa.
In the end, Sweeney’s only real punishment is being a convicted felon. And that matters less when you’re 62 years old and retired. Small price to pay for this cushy retirement plan. Stenger and Sweeney were sentenced by the same judge, U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry, who has impressed us with her courtroom manner and professionalism.
But she threw the book at Stenger and let Sweeney off easy, even though they were conspiring together to commit these crimes.
Frankly, we don’t buy the charity act. Sweeney would still gladly be ripping off city and county taxpayers today if she hadn’t been caught.
All things being equal, we would have even taken some time off Stenger’s sentence to see Sweeney behind bars. Everyone involved in this should serve some time.