Auditor Nicole Galloway will examine St. Louis County's finances in the wake of a public corruption scandal.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway says her investigators will examine St. Louis County's finances in the aftermath of Steve Stenger's public corruption schemes.
Galloway announced this morning she has accepted an invitation from the county council to conduct an audit, work that will formally begin in June.
"The abuses that have been uncovered in St. Louis County have defrauded citizens of their hard-earned tax dollars," Galloway told reporters at a news conference. "The corruption of the Stenger administration deeply eroded the public trust. This audit will provide a roadmap that will allow officials in the county to begin to regain that trust."
The probe could mean more legal trouble for Stenger, who resigned at the end of April following his indictment on criminal charges. He pleaded guilty less than a week later, on May 3, in federal court to three counts of theft of honest services and bribery.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed not to bring any more charges against Stenger for his conduct in office. However, there is a caveat — the deal only includes crimes that prosecutors knew about. If Galloway's probe uncovers additional illegal activity, there is nothing preventing further charges. There is also the possibility of charges in state court.
Galloway promised to work closely with law enforcement at all levels and share her findings.
"We don't know what we will find," Galloway says. "My public corruption and fraud division has a history of working with law enforcement and having very effective relationships there so, certainly, if we uncover anything further of criminal concern we will pass that along."
Galloway outlined steps for an audit of the county in 2017, but she says Stenger was not interested. State law would have required a formal invitation. She never got one in 2017, and the review never happened.
After Stenger was indicted on April 29, Galloway released a statement, recounting that history and suggesting the council might like to revisit the possibility of an audit.
"Stenger's actions made it clear then [in 2017], as it is now, there was no real intention of ensuring a full accounting of taxpayers' dollars," Galloway said in her statement. "I encourage the county council to act now so citizens can get the answers they deserve."
The council responded quickly, unanimously passing a resolution last week to invite Galloway's team to begin a review.
The audit will include county contracts as well as those of affiliated agencies, including the St. Louis County Economic Development Partnership and St. Louis County Port Authority — two entities that played key roles in Stenger's pay-to-play scams.
The crooked ex-pol has admitted he steered a $100,000 marketing consulting contract through the Port Authority to political donor John Rallo, an insurance company owner who had no qualifications other than that he was a donor and fundraiser for Stenger's two campaigns for county executive.
Former St. Louis County Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney pleaded guilty last week to knowingly concealing Stenger's plans. She was also the executive director of the Port Authority, where she shepherded the deal through the board and even added another $30,000 to pay off another political backer, federal authorities say.
In additional schemes, Sweeney helped hook up Rallo with county land deals through the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. She sat on the authority's board.
Rallo was indicted last week on federal bribery charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
Galloway says the audit will begin in June, but her staff will begin speaking with council members and others in the meantime as they figure out what avenues to explore.
She says anyone with information can contact the state whistleblower hotline at email@example.com or by calling 800-347-8597. People can also submit anonymous tips online at auditor.mo.gov/hotline
Galloway says she will not know how long the audit will take until its begins. The cost is also unknown and will be paid for by the county.
Update: The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership emailed the following statement from its chairman, Karlos Ramirez:
In January, we named Rodney Crim Interim CEO and began a comprehensive review of our organization. As a result of the review, we have made changes to improve transparency and ensure fair and equitable policies and practices. With our new leadership, we welcome the opportunity to work with State Auditor Nicole Galloway. As a board, we remain committed to the mission of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, which is to attract, retain and facilitate the growth of businesses in the St. Louis region.
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