Stenger's Former Right-Hand Man Gets 15 Months In Prison For His Role In Pay-To-Play Scheme | St. Louis Public Radio

Stenger's Former Right-Hand Man Gets 15 Months In Prison For His Role In Pay-To-Play Scheme

Sep 6, 2019

Updated at 2:50 p.m. Sept. 6 with comments from court hearing

William Miller, the chief of staff to disgraced former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, was sentenced Friday to 15 months behind bars for working to make sure that a campaign donor to Stenger got a lobbying contract.

Miller pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting bribery, a felony, in May. The sentence handed down Friday by U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel was at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines for the crime and in line with what prosecutors had sought. The maximum under the guidelines was 21 months. Miller’s attorneys wanted probation.

Miller will report to prison at a later date. In addition to the prison term, he will be on supervised release for three years. He has already surrendered his law license.

Sippel did not fine Miller, saying he did not consider it appropriate because of Miller’s family obligations and the fact he will not be employed for more than a year. But he declined Miller’s request for probation.

“This wasn’t just one moment that was fixed later,” the judge said. “You undermined the public trust. People go to work every day believing that government agencies have their best interests in mind. It’s a tragedy.”

Neither Miller nor his attorney, Larry Hale, spoke to reporters after the hearing. In court, Miller told Sippel that he “took full responsibility” for his actions.

“The prosecutor says I should have walked away. He’s right,” Miller said. “Had I done so, I wouldn’t be standing before you here today. I lacked the courage and discipline to tell Steve Stenger no. I messed up, plain and simple. I’m a good person who did stupid things.”

Sentencing memos filed by prosecutors and Miller’s defense team painted starkly different pictures of Miller’s place in the pay-to-play scheme that roiled St. Louis County government. 

“With full knowledge that what they were doing was wrong, this defendant never hesitated to exert his authority as chief of staff to direct subordinate employees to take official action in aid of Stenger’s pay-to-play scheme,” prosecutor Hal Goldsmith wrote. “The county executive didn’t, and couldn’t, carry out his illegal scheme without the aid and assistance of this defendant William Miller.” 

The prosecution’s memo outlines several instances in which Miller used his clout as chief of staff to bully and threaten lower-level employees into doing Stenger’s bidding. 

By contrast, Miller’s attorney, Larry Hale, portrayed Miller as someone who was simply following the orders of Stenger, a “vindictive person known to threaten to terminate or otherwise punish those who did not follow his directives.”

“Defendant did not independently initiate actions related to the scheme,” Hale wrote. “Defendant did not participate in raising funds for the Stenger campaign. He never engaged in communication with campaign donors promising county contracts in exchange for campaign donations. It was not defendant’s decision to reward donors with county contracts. This was all done by Steven V. Stenger.” 

In seeking probation, Hale also noted that Miller has been receiving treatment since March for a “major disorder,” which prosecutors dismissed as a ploy to get a lower sentence. 

Bill Miller, Steve Stenger's former chief of staff, walks out of federal court Friday after being sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

What’s next

Miller is the third of four people who have pleaded guilty to be sentenced. Stenger will report to prison in late September for a nearly four-year term behind bars. Sheila Sweeney, the former head of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, which awarded the contracts at the center of the scheme, is on probation for three years. 

John Rallo, a campaign donor who sought county contracts in exchange for contributions, will be sentenced next month.

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