Stenger Pal John Rallo: 'I Don't Deserve a Death Sentence'


John Rallo in May 2019 as he leaves federal court in St. Louis. - DOYLE MURPHY
  • John Rallo in May 2019 as he leaves federal court in St. Louis.

John Rallo, who is serving time for bribing former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, says he fears catching COVID-19 for a second time in a federal prison.

The 54-year-old businessman sent U.S. District Richard Webber a handwritten letter, railing against media coverage and begging to be released to house arrest.

"All I am trying to do is serve my time, but would like to do it in an environment that doesn't put my life at risk," he writes.

Rallo has already had the coronavirus once, and his bunk mate at the U.S. penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, died of the virus last month. The inmate, 39-year-old Taiwan Davis, who was serving 84 months in a drug case, tested positive on July 29 and died a week later, on August 5, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

In a previous letter, Rallo had told the judge that Davis "didn't need to" die and "should have been removed from the unhealthy situation weeks before his death."

Rallo says he began to feel sick the same day that Davis tested positive and within 24 hours developed "severe chills, nausea and shortness of breath that made it very difficult to breath."

Even after the chills and nausea subsided, he struggled to breathe, he writes.

"At times it felt as though I were having a heart attack," Rallo writes. "Very scary to say the least."

Rallo is serving seventeen months after pleading guilty to mail fraud for his role in a years-long bribery scheme. He routinely donated money to Stenger's campaign and recruited other donors. In exchange, the corrupt politico hooked him up with a do-nothing consulting contract through the Port Authority and real estate deals. Stenger tried but failed multiple times to steer a contract to manage county employees' benefits to Rallo's insurance company.

When the scheme unraveled it took down both Rallo and Stenger, as well as the county executive's former chief of staff Bill Miller and former St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney, all of whom pleaded guilty to federal crimes.

Even before reporting to Marion, Rallo began pleading to have his prison sentence converted to house arrest in his new home in Salt Lake City. He has thyroid cancer and a blood disorder that compromises his immune system and makes him more susceptible to COVID-19, he and his lawyers have argued.

Federal prosecutors have opposed letting Rallo out of prison. In a filing last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith cited medical records from the prison in which Rallo claimed he was feeling fine and symptom free during ten days of medically ordered isolation after he tested positive. 

"The medical staff determined that defendant’s COVID-19 virus was resolved and, per CDC guidelines, defendant was released from isolation back to his normal housing," writes Goldsmith, who led the prosecution against Stenger and the others.

In his letter, Rallo writes that the media has been a "mouth piece" for prosecutors and "they often mishandle the truth." He claims he and other inmates hid their symptoms from nurses before testing positive in hopes of avoiding a stay in isolation. When he first arrived at the prison in June, he spent 24 days in isolation as part of the medical protocols designed to keep new inmates from bringing in the virus. Rallo says he was kept in a seven-by-nine-foot room without air conditioning.

"No way I was ever going back there!" he writes. "I figured it was just as easy to be sick in the dorm at the camp, in more comfort, with air conditioning and not being trapped in a small room."

At the time, COVID-19 was spreading through the prison.

According to Bureau of Prison records, 135 inmates have tested positive in Marion and two have died. Most of the cases came during a spike in early August, but that has apparently subsided. There are now three active cases among the 1,166 inmates, according to the most recent numbers.

Rallo says he worries about a second wave. There have been some reports of reinfection among people who've already had COVID-19.

"Your honor, my biggest fear is that there will be another outbreak, especially with the BOP now bringing in new inmates," Rallo writes. "If this does occur, I have a significant fear for my health & potentially my life. Having COVID was a horrible experience that I don't want to have to go thru again. I have a loving family that needs me ... I don't deserve a death sentence."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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