Judge Rejects Stenger Pal's Request for 'Compassionate Release'

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 admitted bribing ex-St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, will have to continue to ride out the pandemic in prison, a federal judge ruled.

Rallo, 55, had requested a "compassionate release," describing in hand-written letters to Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Webber his fear of COVID-19. The crooked businessman, who also suffered from thyroid cancer, contracted the virus shortly after arriving at the penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, to begin serving a seventeen-month sentence. His bunkmate at Marion, 39-year-old Taiwan Davis, also contracted the coronavirus and died in August.

"Having COVID was a horrible experience that I don't want to have to go thru again," Rallo pleaded in a letter to Webber. "I have a loving family that needs me ... I don't deserve a death sentence."

But Webber found that there was no indication that the federal Bureau of Prisons couldn't provide Rallo adequate health care if he were to get sick again. The judge noted that Rallo had only served four months of his sentence.

"Additionally, allowing Defendant to be released now after serving only a fraction of his sentence would not reflect the seriousness of his offense nor provide just punishment for his offenses," Webber wrote in a memo filed today.

Rallo pleaded guilty to three counts of theft of honest services in July 2019, admitting he bribed Stenger in a pay-to-play scheme that began in 2014 when Stenger was still a county councilman. The former nightclub owner ran an insurance company and paid off Stenger in political donations with the understanding that the county executive would steer contracts to handle county employees' benefits to Rallo.

It turned out that Stenger didn't have as much power as he thought and failed repeatedly to get county bureaucrats to follow through on the scam, so he tried to find other ways to use taxpayer funds to compensate Rallo. That included hooking him up with real estate deals and smoothing the way for a no-show consulting contract with the Port Authority.

The various schemes unraveled in 2019 when Rallo, Stenger and two of the county executive's circle — his chief of staff Bill Miller and ex-CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership Sheila Sweeney — were indicted on federal charges.

Stenger resigned on the same day the indictment was revealed and pleaded guilty within a week. He remains in a federal prison camp in Yankton, South Dakota.

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