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Businessman who bribed Stenger in 'pay-to-play' scheme sentenced to 17 months

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith called John Rallo the 'quid' and former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger the 'quo'

ST. LOUIS — Successful businessman. Rallo family patriarch. Loving father and husband.

Those were all words family and friends used to describe John Rallo as he stood before a federal judge Thursday, who sentenced him to 17 months in prison for his role in the pay-to-play scheme involving former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

But U.S. Magistrate Richard Webber had some words of his own to describe the 54-year-old.

“This is not a case where a businessman became unintentionally or innocently involved in something,” Webber said. “In his own words, he was ‘tired of paying politicians and getting nothing in return.’ He made it clear that he expected to be rewarded.”

The hearing marked the close of all those who have so far been charged in connection to the Stenger scandal.

RELATED: Steve Stenger's prison sentence shortened by 19 months

Stenger was sentenced to 46 months in prison. His former chief of staff, Bill Miller, got 15 months. And Sheila Sweeney, who was appointed by Stenger to head the county's economic development partnership, got three years of probation.

Webber also sentenced Rallo to two years of probation following his 17-month sentence.

In court Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said there wouldn’t have been a case without Rallo.

“There’s no question Mr. Rallo is the second most culpable in this case,” he said. “Without those bribes, we don’t have pay-to-play.

“We’ve all heard the phrase quid pro quo a lot in the news lately … Mr. Rallo was the quid and Mr. Stenger was the quo.”

Rallo read a statement to the court and called his actions a "lapse in judgement" of "extraordinary significance." 

"I want to offer my humble and heartfelt apology," he said. "I let my ambition get the better of me ... It was conduct unbecoming to say the least."

The bribery indictment against Rallo claimed he gave Stenger tens of thousands of dollars in donations with the understanding that his companies would get contracts.

In his plea, Stenger admitted taking actions to ensure that county contracts went to two Rallo-owned companies — Cardinal Insurance and Cardinal Creative Consulting — and ensuring that Rallo's Wellston Holdings LLC obtained options to buy two properties held by the county's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

RELATED: St. Louis County businessman to enter guilty plea on in Stenger scheme

In addition to the federal case, Rallo last month was ordered by Missouri's securities commissioner to repay $1.2 million to six investors and pay a $30,000 civil penalty. The state said Rallo sought investors in a company that he said would sell coconut powder to Costco and Sam's Club as a food product sweetener. The state claimed that Rallo largely used the investments for his other businesses.

Rallo's plea to three bribery counts made him the fourth person to plead guilty in connection with the case.

During Thursday’s hearing, Rallo’s attorney, John Rogers, told the court that Rallo has had to move his family to an isolated area in Utah because the “bad publicity” about his client has made it impossible for them to live in St. Louis. He said Rallo’s mother has experienced shame at her church, and he realizes his actions have forever tarnished his family’s name and the lives of his five children.

About 25 members of Rallo’s family attended Thursday’s hearing, except for his two youngest children, ages 10 and 11. One woman hung her head as Webber delivered the sentence. Rallo’s attorney asked Webber to sentence Rallo to probation with home confinement for the crimes.

Rallo left the hearing without commenting to reporters, but turned toward his family after the sentencing and raised his eyebrows twice.

Rogers said he was happy that Webber took the 18 letters of support for Rallo into account during his sentencing.

“We appreciate the consciousness of the court to listen to all of the briefs,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith also did not comment on Webber’s sentence, but looked back at his legal team following the hearing, shrugged his shoulders and pressed his lips.

He said he did not make any public recommendations for Rallo’s sentence and deferred to the court.

Sentencing guidelines fell between 21 and 27 months.

When asked whether Thursday’s hearing marks the end of the Stenger-related cases, Goldsmith smiled and said, “I can’t comment on that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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