(Updated at 5:39 p.m., Dec. 16 with interview with U.S. Attorney Robert Callahan.)
The U.S. attorney’s office reports that it has found no wrongdoing -- by anyone -- in the awarding of a subcontract for the St. Louis County police department’s new crime lab.
The subcontract went to a firm owned by Gregory Sansone, then the head of the county Police Board. Sansone had been appointed by St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. The controversy raised questions of corruption and conflict of interest -- and generated more than a year of bad publicity for Dooley.
Dooley's staff said in a statement that "he was happy to have the matter concluded but saddened that he and key members of (his) team had their reputations tarnished."
Dooley also lashed out at St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, whom he blamed for instigating the controversy.
Dooley's rival, and soon-to-be successor, Councilman Steve Stenger, cited the federal investigation in some of his attack ads last summer. Stenger's top political ally has been McCulloch.
U.S. Attorney Richard G. Callahan told Dooley in a letter received this week that the federal investigation “has been completed with no finding of any criminal wrongdoing. Consequently, our office has now closed its file on this matter.”
In a telephone interview later, Callahan emphasized that investigators only looked into whether federal laws were broken, such as "fraud or undue influence."
"Whether that subcontract violated the (county) charter's conflict-of-interest provisions, we have no opinion on that,'' Callahan said.
He added that the public controversy exemplified why federal authorities try to keep such probes secret. "In a perfect world, we do try to keep our investigations out of the public eye...(and) only become known if we find evidence of criminal wrongdoing and file a charge, " Callahan said.
He said the crime-lab investigation because public because then-Police Chief Tim Fitch decided to go public with his request.
Fitch had requested the probe in August 2013 after a controversy erupted over the awarding of a $3.75 million subcontract to Sansone's SM Mechanical. Sansone subsequently stepped down.
Dooley announced soon after that he supported a federal investigation, but that wasn’t enough to stem accusations that his administration might have been involved. Last January, Stenger called for Dooley’s chief of operations, Garry Earls, to step down.
Dooley’s allies said that the issue helped Stenger mount his successful campaign against Dooley in the August Democratic primary. Dooley went on the radio Tuesday to assert that the matter may have cost him the election, although Stenger defeated him by a ratio of about two-to-one.
In a statement, Dooley asserted that McCulloch was behind much of the controversy.
“The allegations made were made with malice," Dooley said. "The prosecuting attorney knew the allegations were bogus, but it served a purpose and that was to create a certain image of me and my administration prior to the election.
“Our office acted in a lawful manner at all times regarding the awarding of the crime lab contract; we had no involvement with the subcontract award to SM Mechanical. Our legal team reviewed every aspect of this and there was absolutely nothing illegal or criminal at all in the awarding of these contracts,” Dooley added.
“Bob McCulloch built a campaign around Charlie Dooley and alleged corruption," Dooley continued. "To have a sitting prosecuting attorney give credence to baseless allegations and use those allegations as a campaign attack was unprecedented and it certainly had an impact with voters; his actions bear investigation not mine."
McCulloch and Stenger have yet to comment on the matter.
Lambastes McCulloch and Stenger
Dooley pulled no punches after Tuesday’s county council – his last meeting as county executive before Stenger takes the helm. He said Stenger and his political allies knew “it was a lie” that he had committed any wrongdoing.
Dooley also expressed distain for some member of the county council, adding that fed into the perception that he was corrupt.
“If you knew anything about me for 11 years, that’s the last thing on my mind – is doing something crooked or corrupt or not being aware of a bid,” he said.
He went onto say that the attacks on him were racially motivated.
“You know what’s happened over the last couple of years,” Dooley said. “If you said an African-American elected official is alleged to have done some wrongdoing, and 75 percent of the population is non-African American – what do you think is going to happen? What happened is exactly what happened. I lost in all of the non-African-American townships in this county – which I have never done before.”
But Dooley saved his most blistering criticism for McCulloch, who he said “played the race card” during the campaign season.
“He’s a liar and the truth is not in him anywhere,” Dooley said. “The things that he says and he did proves to this community that Bob McCulloch cannot be trusted. And I don’t have to say that. They know that. This entire nation knows that.”