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Former County Executive Stenger's Chief Of Staff Pleads Guilty In Pay-To-Play Scheme

Bill Miller, Steve Stenger's former chief of staff, walks out of federal court after pleading guilty on Friday. May 31, 2019
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Bill Miller, Steve Stenger's former chief of staff, walks out of federal court after pleading guilty on Friday.

Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s chief of staff pleaded guilty on Friday morning to a federal corruption charge of aiding and abetting bribery.

William Miller Jr., accompanied by his attorney, Larry Hale, declined to comment after the hearing.

The evidence in the case consisted of statements from witnesses both inside and outside of county government, said federal prosecutor Hal Goldsmith. He also said there were “tens of thousands of emails and text messages” and recordings from telephone conversations and meetings.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel accepted Miller’s waiver of indictment and guilty plea on Friday morning. Miller’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 6.

Miller, 54, was hired in December 2017 to assist Stenger with the day-to-day operations of St. Louis County government. He was later appointed to the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership’s board.

The charges stem from three meetings taped by federal agents: one on Oct. 30, one on Nov. 16, and the other Nov. 19.

During the first meeting on Oct. 30, Miller spoke with Jeff Wagener, Stenger’s top policy advisor, about giving a St. Louis Economic Development Partnership lobbying contract to a Stenger campaign contributor’s company. The company, John Bardgett & Associates, is identified in the charges as “Company One.”

“So, I met with Steve today. Partnership is going out for a lobbyist. Steve's like, this is real important .... [Company One] called, wants some/consideration. Steve's like, this can't be f---ed up, it's got to happen,” Miller said, according to the indictment.

The two later discuss how to pressure St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney into awarding the lobbying contract to Bardgett & Associates. The recordings captured this exchange on Nov. 16.

About three days later, Miller and Wagener met with Stenger. Stenger then told them, “You two are political people, I am a political person, I have to be, I am in politics. That’s what we do. It’s not the art of f---ing over your friends. It’s the art of how do I work with people I trust and know.”

Miller responded, “It’s the art of staying in power.”

Stenger urged Miller and Wagener to meet with Sweeney. The next day, the three met at a Starbucks in Clayton. The two men told Sweeney, according to Stenger’s indictment, Stenger wanted Bardgett & Associates to get the lobbying contract.

Less than three weeks later, the partnership awarded the lobbying contract to Bardgett & Associates on Sweeney’s recommendation. The contract was worth $149,000 for 2019.

John Bargett & Associates and its owner contributed $17,000 during Stenger’s first campaign for county executive, then $32,000 in 2015 through 2016. Between January 2017 and November 2018, the company and its owner contributed $59,000 to Stenger, according to the charge. The owner was also engaged in raising money for Stenger, Goldsmith said during the hearing.

Miller resigned in April in the midst of the federal investigation.

Miller is the third county employee to plead guilty to the pay-to-play scheme. Sweeney and Stenger pleaded guilty earlier this month and both are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 9.

John Rallo, the owner of Cardinal Insurance, Cardinal Creative Consulting and Wellston Holdings, was indicted and entered a plea of not guilty. Rallo’s case is pending.

Follow Beth on Twitter: @bhundsdorfer

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Beth is a reporter with Capitol News Illinois.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.