County Executive Steve Stenger listens to public comments at the Aug. 1 County Council meeting. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.
By Gloria Lloyd
The St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday night to release a federal subpoena that was served on the county last month, despite an admonition on the subpoena’s front page that it should be kept secret to not “impede the investigation.”
The three-page subpoena (read it here) lists a broad range of documents that it compels the county to testify about before a grand jury April 10.
Although County Executive Steve Stenger’s office told reporters last week that the subpoena targets the county rather than him, the time period covered by the documents only spans Stenger’s tenure in office, starting Jan. 1, 2015. It asks for all contracts, grants and records related to the contracts and to County Council meetings during that time frame.
The document requests revolve around the relationship between Stenger’s campaign donors and county contracts — the area the County Council voted last June to recommend that federal prosecutors investigate.
Although council members are convinced federal prosecutors are looking into the contract for the new North County Government Center at Northwest Plaza, the subpoena only specifically mentions one company — an LLC with Stenger ties that landed a county contract to buy land in Wellston.
The deadline to return the documents is April 10.
To the surprise of many, Stenger was at the council meeting Tuesday, where 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, tried to get into a back-and-forth on the federal investigation. In response to who would handle the subpoena, County Counselor Peter Krane said he is handling the production of documents “independent of anybody else.”
Harder asked, “Mr. County Executive, how many cell phones do you have, and have you turned them into the counselor’s office?” and when Stenger became aware of the federal investigation.
Stenger said he wasn’t going to “engage” with Harder on a legal issue.
“Right now it’s not really a time for grandstanding, it’s really a time for compliance, and that’s what Peter Krane is going to ensure,” Stenger said. “I mean, politicizing this isn’t doing anybody any good.”
Harder said that the media had been asking the questions, and he didn’t know what to tell them.
“It doesn’t sound like a question that the media’s been asking, but that’s OK,” Stenger said, then added, “Not really.”
Subpoena asks for secrecy
The first page of the subpoena asks for it to be kept confidential.
The subpoena states, “Pursuant to an official investigation being conducted by the Federal Grand Jury for the Eastern District of Missouri, your company is requested not to disclose the existence of this subpoena, nor that your company has given information to the Federal Grand Jury. Such a disclosure would impede the investigation and thereby interfere with the enforcement of the criminal laws of the United States of America.”
But 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, said he felt the document is public record under the Sunshine Law and made the motion to release it.
The council voted 6-0, with 1st District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, abstaining.
“Wasn’t it supposed to be confidential?” Erby asked.
But Page, who went public with the subpoena last week, said he believes the public interest is served by everyone seeing the subpoena.
“I certainly believe this serves the public interest to have the subpoena out in front of our residents and other county employees to view,” Page said.
What it asks for
The subpoena, issued by U.S. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Hal Goldsmith, asks for “any and all records and documents relating in any manner whatsoever” to contracts and grants awarded and rejected by St. Louis County, “including, but not limited to” requests for proposals and responses to them, any records related to the awarding of those contracts, including “notes, memoranda, correspondence, email communications, text messages.” Prosecutors also want any policies, rules and regulations about contracts and grants.
The subpoena asks for all contracts and contract renewals, plus any progress reports submitted under the contracts, plus invoices, bills, charges and payment records for the contracts and renewals. The document specifically asks for text messages and documents related to “no bid” contracts.
The subpoena also asks for all county Sunshine Law requests and the responses, something that Stenger is being sued for by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
The county will have to hand over all documents regarding any public or closed County Council meetings, including agendas, minutes, notes, memoranda, correspondence, emails, text messages, records of deliberations, voting records, audio and/or video recordings. The subpoena refers to the County Council as the “St. Louis Council.”
Prosecutors specifically ask for the personnel files of five county employees hired by Stenger — Lou Aboussie, John Saracino, Sean Rhode, Patti Hageman and Lance LeComb. The subpoena misspells Hageman’s first name and LeComb’s last name.
The county will have to hand over records identifying federal funds and their sources.
Goldsmith also wants all records of written or oral communications, printed or digital, including documents, emails and text messages, between Stenger or a current or former member of his staff and a current or former employee, board member or attorney of the St. Louis County Port Authority.
Prosecutors request the same types of documents between Stenger or his staffers and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership employees, board members or attorneys and the county Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority employees, board or attorneys.
The Port Authority and LCRA are staffed by the Economic Development Partnership, whose Stenger-allied CEO Sheila Sweeney was forced out by the Stenger-appointed board.
Stenger appoints the boards of all three of those bodies, and the County Council’s Ethics Committee is looking into whether he used them to push his donors and friends into taxpayer-funded contracts.
The only specific county developer mentioned in the subpoena are the principals behind Wellston Holdings LLC, which landed a contract through some of the above boards for its owners, Stenger donor John Rallo, along with Doug LaClair and Corey Christanell, who are specifically named in the subpoena.