Stenger's Fancy Friend John Rallo to Plead Guilty to Federal Crime

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John Rallo went full power tie for his arraignment in May. - DOYLE MURPHY
John Rallo went full power tie for his arraignment in May.

Update — 2 p.m.: John Rallo pleaded guilty to three counts of honest services mail fraud/bribery today in front of U.S. District Judge Richard Webber. He's scheduled to be sentenced October 15. The original story continues below.

John Rallo, bold advocate for mixed-pattern outfits, is scheduled to plead guilty today in the Steve Stenger bribery case.

The 54-year-old ex-nightclub owner and friend to celeb Montel Williams was indicted in May for allegedly trading the former St. Louis County executive  campaign donations for scam contracts. He showed up to court in his best honest-businessman suit (see above) and pleaded not guilty. But he is on the court docket to change that plea this afternoon in federal court.

The Stenger bribery scheme sort of worked, sort of didn't, according to documents filed in the case. Rallo, who had an insurance company called Cardinal Creative Insurance, wanted a contract handling the benefits package of county employees, federal prosecutors say.

Stenger was secretly recorded trying to make that happen, only to find through a lot of frustration and failed attempts that he just didn't have that kind of juice.

Rallo, who later moved to Salt Lake City, was something of a jet setter. Among his former business ventures was a short-lived Clayton cigar bar that he and his partners called Johnny Roller's — Rallo's nickname from a long night at the craps table in Las Vegas, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1996.

He has been wining and dining Stenger for years, authorities say.

He first met the brash politico in 2014 over dinner at Sam's Steakhouse near Grant's Farm in south St. Louis County while the then-county councilman was still running for county executive. After Stenger was in office, they would meet up for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton or maybe Cafe Napoli in Clayton. Rallo helped coordinate high-dollar fundraisers and recruited other donors, according to court documents.

"How about a little holiday cheer late next week out at Annie Gunn's?" Rallo asked in December 2016.

Stenger replied, "Yes. I would love that. I need it."

The crooked county executive did eventually manage to hook up Rallo with a couple of sketchy development deals and a no-show contract through the Port Authority to do some marketing and consulting, federal prosecutors say.

Rallo had no experience in marketing, authorities say, but he took six-month agreement for $130,000, dangling Montel Williams as a possible spokesperson to boost the county's image post-Ferguson.

At the end of April, Stenger was indicted on three charges related to the bribery scheme and pleaded guilty within a week. The indictment spent a lot time talking about Rallo and top Stenger political allies.

The ex-county executive's chief of staff, 54-year-old Bill Miller pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud/bribery on May 31. On the same day that Rallo was indicted, former St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney, 61, pleaded guilty to a misprision of a felony — admitting she knew about a crime and didn't report it.

The court records and prosecutors have not identified the crime or crimes to which Rallo is planning to plead. What is known is that he is on the docket for a 1 p.m. appearance, and will undoubtedly be looking sharp.

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

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