Stenger asks to serve three years in federal prison; sentencing is this week

Pictured above: Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, left, and Stenger’s lawyer, Scott Rosenblum, right, exit the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse Friday, May 3, after Stenger pleaded guilty to three counts of theft of honest services/bribery and mail fraud. A sentencing hearing will be held Aug. 9. Stenger faces three to four years in federal prison. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com

County Executive Steve Stenger asked a judge to give him three years in prison when he is sentenced this week, the low end of federal sentencing guidelines in his corruption case.

Stenger is set to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, by U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry.

His attorney Adam Fein argued in the defense sentencing memo to Perry that three years in prison and two years of supervised release will punish him and serve as a deterrent to future public officials considering corruption. Stenger argued that he deserved the low end of the 37- to 48-month sentence recommended in the plea deal in his case because he accepted responsibility and because he is a first-time offender.

Perry is not bound by the guidelines and can go above or below the recommended sentence. Prosecutors argued in a blistering 12-page sentencing memo that Stenger should serve somewhere in the recommended range, not less.

“Stenger’s offense cost him much, well beyond that which the Guidelines contemplate, even if in part those costs are warranted,” Fein wrote. “He has lost the livelihood he worked his way through school to earn, is the subject of public opprobrium, and is an object of regular public scorn — some based on fact, but some most assuredly not.

“Moreover, though his offense is serious, on balance, Stenger has lived a pro-social, productive, and positive life in which he has done more good than harm in both his personal and professional lives.”

Stenger’s attorney notes in his memo that Stenger paid back $130,000 in restitution before sentencing, which he argues is the full restitution for the crimes outlined in the 44-page indictment, covering a phony $130,000 county Port Authority contract Stenger concocted to pay back campaign donor John Rallo. Rallo and two others also pleaded guilty, and Stenger argued that since he paid back the money, other “less culpable” defendants won’t have to.

Some courts have granted less prison time for paying back money in advance, the memo notes, “an outcome for which Stenger himself does not argue or ask.”

The memo notes that Stenger “accepted responsibility early on, pled guilty within eight days of his indictment, and worked towards resolution of his case well before he was indicted — steps that reflect his regret and spared the government scarce prosecutorial resources.” Future defendants will be motivated to do the same if Stenger is given a lower sentence because of that cooperation, the memo says.

Stenger also surrendered his Missouri and Illinois law licenses and asked to have his license as a certified public accountant revoked, which damages his earning power for life.

The attorneys cite a series of studies that found no change in deterrence from granting longer sentences to defendants.

The memo argues that Stenger is unlikely to reoffend because this is his first offense; because of his age, 47, and older defendants are less likely to commit more crimes than younger ones; because he is college-educated and has a long employment history; and because he is married with children. That places him in the category of federal offenders least likely to reoffend.

The memo hints at “several rehabilitative needs” of Stenger, outlined in three pages of the presentencing report. “But those needs do not justify a sentence beyond 37 months” and would probably best be delivered in a “community setting, rather than a setting of confinement,” his attorneys write. Later in the paragraph, the attorneys reference studies about how giving inmates longer sentences so they can complete a “treatment program” isn’t effective.

The memo outlines Stenger’s working-class family background, how he worked his way through college and law school and how close he is to his three siblings, who all live in the St. Louis area. Family members submitted sentencing letters that “describe him as thoughtful, generous and kind,” according to the memo.

In Stenger’s time as a criminal defense attorney, “by all accounts, he served his clients well, took pro bono matters regularly, and gave his time and assistance to family, friends, and strangers alike.”

He has been married for 10 years to his wife, Allison, who is pregnant with their third child and still supports him, the memo states. The baby is due in September. The extended family will support her while Stenger serves his sentence.

While county executive, Stenger admits in the memo, he “made choices that violated federal law, abused the trust of his constituents, and adversely affected county government. This Court will sentence him for those wrongs. Yet, in that same time, his administration made positive contributions to the community.”

Among the positives from the Stenger administration are the county’s prescription drug monitoring program, which now covers 80 percent of the state; the Proposition P sales tax that has allowed police officers to get raises and the St. Louis County Police Department to afford new technology; programs for children; reforming pensions, which were taking over the county general fund; and securing a $4.5 million University of Missouri grant for criminal justice reform that has reduced the county jail population by 22 percent since July 2018.