Stenger calls for Dooley’s second in command to resign

Call for Earls to step down ‘a cheap political trick,’ Dooley says

By Gloria Lloyd

County officials dispute that they knew about an employee’s fraud a month before his suicide, but 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, contends they did and is calling for the resignation of the county’s second in command, Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls.

Last September, Department of Health Director of Executive Administration Edward Mueth killed himself the night before he was set to meet with Earls and health department Director Dr. Dolores Gunn about Mueth’s suspected theft from the county.

Questions arose last week over whether officials in the health department and County Executive Charlie Dooley’s office knew about the fraud a month before and only told police what they knew after Mueth’s suicide.

With up to $3.5 million in county funds missing, top county officials, including Dooley and Earls, knew about the fraud for a month before Mueth’s suicide and should be held accountable, said Stenger, who is running for county executive against Dooley in the August Democratic primary.

Stenger said he called for Earls’ resignation because county voters will make a decision about Dooley this fall.

“They knew about the crime for 30 days before they went to law enforcement, and they only went to law enforcement because Mr. Mueth killed himself,” Stenger said. “So it looks a lot like what they were doing for 30 days was trying to figure out how they could avoid going to law enforcement, which looks a lot like they were trying to cover it up.

“I believe the administration, from mid-level above, knew about it, and that would include Garry Earls. That would include Charlie Dooley, and it would include Delores Gunn.”

“That is just not the truth,” said Dooley’s spokeswoman, Patricia Washington.

She was in the room with Dooley when he first learned about Mueth’s fraud Sept. 18, she added. Mueth killed himself later that night.

Dooley and Gunn said they knew nothing about Mueth’s fraud beforehand and that Stenger’s accusations are politically motivated and premature, since they are waiting for the results of investigations by the county Police Department and FBI, along with Gunn’s internal inquiry, before deciding what actions to take.

“St. Louis County does things in an orderly fashion. It calls for level-headed people,” Dooley said. “Let’s not jump off the boat. The boat is still floating. It’s the best boat in this state. St. Louis County has a record second to nobody in this state.”

Earls, Dooley said, is an “outstanding individual” who reports to him, not Stenger or the County Council.

Earls was first appointed by then-County Executive Buzz Westfall as director of the Department of Public Works in 1999 and has served in his current role during most of Dooley’s decade in office.

“I think it’s nonsense. People have called for (Stenger’s) resignation, but he’s still sitting there,” Dooley said. “It’s a cheap political trick. There’s no substance. You can throw things against the wall and hope something sticks and if nothing’s sticking, it’s sliding down.”

Dooley said employees of the health department are human beings and will be treated with compassion, without any rash firings before the various investigations are completed and county officials know the full story of how Mueth scammed the county.

No top-level county administrators, including Gunn, knew about the embezzlement, its extent — or that Mueth was behind it — until Sept. 18, according to the time line set out by Washington.

Last July, Gunn found discrepancies in some line items on invoices as she set the department’s 2014 budget and assigned her financial team to look into the problem.

In the next two months, those employees, who were several levels of administration below both Mueth and Gunn, found additional invoices that were “completely out of line,” but had not yet taken their evidence to Gunn, Washington said.

The night of Sept. 17, an employee found records on the Missouri Secretary of State’s website that indicated the company the department contracted with to rent laptops, Gateway Technical Solutions, was registered with the state under a fictitious name, at an address owned by Mueth — who had overseen and approved invoices and bidding won by Gateway.

With Gunn out of the office at an event with Dooley and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the employee took her evidence to County Counselor Pat Redington the next morning.

When they learned about the apparent conflict of interest later in the day, Earls and Gunn immediately revoked Mueth’s access to county buildings and networks and set up a meeting with him for the next morning, with a police officer scheduled to be present, Washington said.

At that point, county officials still did not know the extent of Mueth’s theft, she added.

But that is unacceptable to Stenger, who said missing $3.5 million in the first place should have raised red flags with Dooley.

The health department leased 80 laptops from Gateway, which should have cost the county a one-time payment of roughly $48,000 rather than ongoing payments adding up to millions, he noted.

“He was stealing for five years undetected by Charlie Dooley and his administration. Then once they found out, they waited an additional 30 days,” Stenger said. “When you find out about a $3.5 million fraud, you go straight to law enforcement, you don’t go meet with the guy. I believe they knew about it, and they waited 30 days to act on it.

“This came right on the heels of the federal investigation into the crime lab, and my suspicion is that they didn’t want more bad press,” he added.

Last summer, county Police Chief Tim Fitch asked the FBI to investigate a subcontract for work on the crime laboratory for county police that was awarded to the Sansone Group, a company owned by then-Police Board member Gregory Sansone, who later resigned.

That investigation is ongoing, along with others by the FBI into county activities.

Since Mueth committed suicide before any criminal charges could be filed against him, the chances of recovering any money from his estate are zero, said Stenger, who is an attorney.

The county is insured against theft. However, it cannot recover anything from Mueth’s estate, including his mansion in Webster Groves, unless it has a judgment against him — which it does not, he added.