Stenger, Dooley continue to face off in variety of venues as primary nears

ACLU files lawsuit seeking copy of FBI’s investigation

By Gloria Lloyd

With the Aug. 5 primary election nearing, County Executive Charlie Dooley and 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, faced off last week in and out of the council chambers, at a candidate forum, on television airwaves and in Dooley’s first-ever veto.

In his first veto in nearly 11 years in office, Dooley rejected a union-centered diversity bill championed by Stenger, with Dooley noting how disappointed he was in the legislation.

“The bills sponsored by Councilman (Mike) O’Mara hijacked the titles of Councilwoman (Hazel) Erby’s bills while turning them into policies that promote exclusion rather than inclusion,” Dooley wrote in his veto letter.

The same week as the League of Women Voters forum that will likely be the only head-to-head matchup for Dooley and Stenger in the runup to the Aug. 5 primary, Dooley said he had done all he could to participate in a debate.

“I gave two dates, and a place where we could do it,” he said.

Stenger said he has accepted six debate invitations that Dooley has declined.

After Dooley requested that the FBI reconsider its decision not to release an investigation it conducted on the county Department of Health after Administration Manager Edward Mueth’s $3.5 million theft, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan responded that the documents are not public records, and the county cannot release them.

Commenting on Callahan’s response in a rare report to the County Council last week, Dooley also turned his attention to comments from St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, who was a longtime Dooley supporter but is supporting Stenger in the primary, that the documents should be publicly released.

“I can see where the prosecuting attorney wouldn’t know the law, because his job is to prosecute criminals, not to understand the Sunshine Law,” Dooley said. “Maybe today’s letter from the United States Attorney will help him understand the law of these records.”

Following the FBI’s response, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit to obtain a copy of the FBI investigation under the Sunshine Law. The FBI filed a motion to intervene in the case because it considers the investigation a federal document governed by the Freedom of Information Act, not a state record governed by Missouri law. A judge had not yet ruled on the FBI’s motion at the time the Call went to press.

The Call is among the media organizations that filed a Sunshine Law request for the records, which was denied by County Counselor Pat Redington because of a warning in a letter from the FBI that the documents were the FBI’s property and were not to be shared “outside your agency.”

Dooley has interpreted that to exclude even County Council members, who were not notified of any of the findings from the audit.

“The council have not requested any information from me whatsoever,” he told the Call.

Fifth District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, told the Call that council members did not even know the investigation existed before July and had never been briefed on it by county officials.

Stenger said he filed a request with the county Police Department for the results of the audit in June, after he heard rumors that the audit existed — not realizing at the time that county administrators also had a copy of the investigation.

The FBI sent the audit to Deputy County Counselor Robert Grant, which Stenger said was done in Grant’s role as attorney for the police, not the county administration. Stenger suggested the FBI might have to investigate who the documents were sent to in the county and whether it was appropriate for results of an ongoing criminal investigation to be sent to county administrators rather than the police.

“Basically what we have is a situation where the FBI report or analysis was inappropriately, and in violation of federal law, provided to Garry Earls and Charlie Dooley,” Stenger said. “And Charlie Dooley’s sitting on the dais crowing about how he doesn’t have to release the results. This is a really sad day for taxpayers.”

Quarterly campaign-finance reports released July 15 cover the county executive race up to June 30. Dooley and Stenger have roughly the same amount of funds on hand, $479,000 to $477,000, according to the reports. Overall, Stenger leads with $1.3 million raised so far, while Dooley has raised $1 million.

“We’re going to do what we have to do to win the election,” Dooley said on his plans for running television commercials in the final weeks leading up to the election.

In that vein, the Dooley campaign began airing a television commercial that accuses criminal defense attorney Stenger of once representing a sex-trafficking kingpin while denigrating the man’s victims – some as young as 13 — in the process.

In an article on the 2000 trial of some of the members of a sex-trafficking ring, including Stenger’s client, a daily newspaper quoted Stenger discussing the women involved in the ring.

“It’s a social unit they chose to live in,” the newspaper quoted Stenger. “This is a lifestyle they chose.”

The voiceover in the Dooley ad quotes the newspaper account and adds, “Leadership fights sex trafficking, not defends it.”

Two months ago, Dooley asked the council for $250,000 to create a special unit in the county police department to fight sex trafficking, which the council granted unanimously.

In a response ad, Stenger pointed out that he was providing a defense to a court-ordered client.