East St. Louis

The FBI Turned a Blind Eye to Rallo Mob Ties for Decades

A long-buried FBI report raises questions as to why the FBI and U.S. Justice Department ignored damning allegations by a now-very dead informant. 

 

The FBI knew that the Rallo Construction Co. had alleged ties to the Chicago Mafia for decades. In indictments filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri against St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger on April 25, 2019, John “Johnny Roller” Rallo was named as a participant in a pay-to-play scheme. He is scheduled to be arraigned May 10. 

 

The FBI knew about an alleged connection between the Chicago Mafia and Rallo Construction Co. of St. Louis as early as 1991, according to a classified FBI report released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Jesse Stoneking, the unnamed informant cited by the FBI in the report, died of a gunshot wound to the head in Arizona in 2003. Arizona law enforcement authorities ruled his death a suicide. Stoneking had been a top lieutenant of East St. Louis racketeer Art Berne in the 1980s, when he was working undercover for the FBI.  After he testified against Berne and other St. Louis area organized crime figures in federal court, the Chicago Mafia allegedly put out a $100,000 contract on his life.

Case Closed: Crime scene photo of the interior of the 1995 Ford Crown Victoria occupied by Jesse Stoneking on Jan. 19, 2003. The St. Louis mobster and federal informant died from a gunshot wound to the head. Arizona authorities ruled it a suicide.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis  issued a three-count indictment against St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger for his role in steering lucrative contracts and property deals in return for campaign contributions from John G. Rallo, a former shareholder in one of the family-owned construction companies — CMR Construction Inc. CMR was formed 1989 by Charles N. Rallo and Michael J. Rallo, grandsons of the of founder of C. Rallo Contracting Co., which was incorporated in 1947.

John G. Rallo, also known as “Johnny Roller” for his long hours spent at the crap tables in Las Vegas, and fellow accomplice Sheila Sweeney were charged one week after Stenger  pleaded guilty. He is awaiting sentencing before Judge Catherine D. Perry in August. Until January, Sweeney headed the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, a county agency that was used to dole out the contracts to Rallo and other political contributors to Stenger’s campaign coffers.

In May 1991, Stoneking informed the FBI that “Berne had told him that the Rallo Construction Company … belonged to the Chicago La Costa Nostra. …” The report goes on to say that “Berne told [Stoneking] that if Chicago wanted to buy property, businesses, get loans or some other such financial transaction it would be done through Rallo Construction Company in St. Louis.”

Stenger was introduced to Rallo by federal felon Sorkis Webbe Jr. in 2014, according to the federal indictment. Webbe, a former city alderman, was convicted of voter fraud and obstruction of justice in 1985.  Webbe’s father had been convicted of income tax evasion in Nevada in 1983 related to his interests in the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, which was then controlled by the Detroit Mafia. The Detroit and St. Louis Mafia families are related.

Given this evidence and other indictors, it is unclear why federal prosecutors in St. Louis did not now pursue the Stenger case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which was crafted specifically to address such criminal enterprises. 

Hal Goldsmith, the prosecutor in the Stenger case, previously served as an Assistant U.S. attorney in East St. Louis in the 1990s, which was Berne’s territory. Goldsmith’s boss at that time was then-U.S. Attorney Charles Grace, who initiated wide-ranging probes of organized criminal enterprises during his tenure. When Berne died in 1996, he was a paid “security consultant” for Pipefitter’s Local 562, which Stoneking had also fingered as being connected to the Chicago Outfit. James O’Mara, the manager of Local 562, was the chairman of the St. Louis County Council at this time.

 

 

 

 

The Mayor’s Partner

Gerhard J. Petzall, a former law partner of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, was a director of Spectrulite Consortium Inc., which owned and operated an Eastside plant contaminated with radioactive waste.  After the problem came to light, the company forced its union work force to strike, filed for bankruptcy, and then reorganized under a different name, selling half the business to a foreign conglomerate. 

I collared outgoing St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay at the Earth Day celebration in Forest Park back in 2013 and asked him for a spot interview. He  told me then that he didn’t have time to go on camera for even a few minutes to talk about St. Louis’ longstanding radioactive waste problem.  He was too busy that sunny Sunday afternoon promoting some other well-intentioned environmental cause. It might have been recycling. As a result, the mayor does not appear in our documentary, The First Secret City.

But Richard Callow, the mayor’s longtime political consultant, does make a cameo appearance in the film. Aside from representing the mayor, Callow has also been a local spokesman for Republic Services, the giant waste disposal company that owns the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill Superfund site in North St. Louis County. In that role, Callow has acted to tamp down public concerns about the severity of the environmental and health problems related to the troubled landfill.

Callow, however,  is not the only link between the mayor and the radioactive waste that has plagued the region since it first began piling up as a byproduct of Mallinkcrodt Chemical’s work on the Manhattan Project.

As it turns out,  Gerhard J. Petzall — the mayor’s former law partner — has past ties to the now-defunct Spectrulite Consortium Inc., a company that owned a plant  in Madison, Illinois contaminated with radioactive waste from the Cold War.  Missouri incorporation records  show that Gerhard J. Petzall, a senior partner in the politically-connected law firm of Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake, sat on the board of directors of Spectrulite for years and continued  act as an attorney for the company until 2009.

By that time, Slay was in his second term as St. Louis mayor. Slay was a partner in Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake for 20 years prior to becoming mayor.

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The problems at Spectrulite began in 1957 when the foundry was owned by Dow Chemical Co. Dow processed uranium at the plant between 1957 and 1961 under a subcontract with St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Chemical Co., which was working for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Dow’s work caused radioactive debris to accumulate on overhead girders — where it was ignored for decades. In 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw a partial radioactive cleanup at the Spectrulite plant.

The Department of Energy conducted the first radiological testing at the facility in March 1989, which showed elevated levels of Uranium-238 and Thorium-232. A story published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the previous month had spurred the government to do the testing. The story was based  in part on the earlier research of Kay Drey. In 1979, the St. Louis environmental activist had interviewed a terminally-ill truck driver who had delivered uranium ingots from Mallinckrodt Chemical in North St. Louis to the Dow plant in Madison. The truck driver attributed his lung cancer to his occupational exposure to radiation in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The plant at Weaver and College streets operates today as Magnesium Elektron of North America, a non-union company and a subsidiary of Luxfur Group of Great Britain. After going bankrupt in 2003,  Spectrulite’s owners sold the company, but continue to hold a stake in the operation and the property itself.

Oddly enough, Spectrulite  remained an active corporation in Missouri — with Petzall’s name appearing in its annual reports long after the business had filed for bankruptcy in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill.  The records show that Petzall continued to be listed as a director of the corporation until 2003, and his name still appeared as a counsel for the by-then non-existent company until 2009.  Spectrulite never operated its manufacturing plant in Missouri. The plant was located across the river in Illinois. But the bankrupt, Illinois-based company, which had been sold to a foreign concern, remained an active corporation in Missouri for six years after its apparent demise; proof that there is life after death at least in the legal world.

Mayor Slay leaves office next week, after serving an unprecedented four terms.  Petzall, the mayor’s legal mentor,  will celebrate his 86th birthday in June.

The History of Pimping

 When newspaper tycoon Mike Lacey,  former owner of the St. Louis Riverfront Times, was busted for pimping in California this week,  his arrest was long overdue. More than a decade earlier, a federal probe linked RFT sex ads to the Eastside rackets. 

[This story was first published in  January 2, 2004.]

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Mugshot of Mike Lacey courtesy of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.

Pimping and Publishing, What’s the Dif?

Dennis W. Sonnenschein will have plenty of time to reflect on his business career over the next year. Yesterday (January 1, 2004), the St. Louis area massage parlor owner reported to federal prison to begin serving a one-year sentence for “misprision of a felony,” a charge similar to obstruction of justice.

In November, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Michael Shaw reported that Sonnenschein was sentenced to a year in jail in federal court in East St. Louis. The court also ordered Sonnenschein to pay a $250,000 fine and give $1 million to Eastside charities. Sonnenschein must also hand over five parcels of property in Brooklyn, Ill., where the now-defunct Free Spirit Massage Parlor was located. Sonnenschein, who headed the A to Z Development Corp., admitted to the court that businesses located on his property were engaged in prostitution. The current owners of the sex businesses operating on his property were not charged. Although the property was listed in his estranged wife’s name, Linda Sonnenscbein wasn’t charged, either.

Sonnenschein, 59, has been engaged in the flesh trade since the 1970s, when he operated mobile massage parlors from the backs of vans in St. Louis County. Sonnenschein’s latest bust appears to have been part of a larger federal investigation into prostitution on the Eastside.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark indicated that the owners of Free Spirit advertised in Missouri publications from 1994 until 2000, the Post reported. Sonnenschein was indicted because the ads drew customers and prostitutes across state lines, which is a federal crime. The Riverfront Times publishes ads for the Eastside strip clubs and massage parlors every week. The time period investigated by federal prosecutors, 1994-2000, spanned the ownership change at the RFT. Hartmann Publishing, owned by Ray Hartmann, sold the newspaper to the New Times, a Phoenix-based chain, in late 1998.

But Sonnenschein’s trail extends further into the past. In September 1983, Post staffer Ronald Lawrence reported that one of Sonnenschein’s business associates was Fernando “Nando” Bartolotta, a made member of the St. Louis mafia family, then under the leadership of the late Matthew Trupiano. Less than two years later, on April 10, 1985, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported on the federal trial of Bartolotta in East St. Louis. Federal prosecutors had charged Bartolotta and another Missouri resident with conspiring to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. Testifiying against Bartolotta was FBI informant Jesse Stoneking, who the defense claimed had intimidated and entrapped the St. Louis organized crime figure. Bartolotta’s defense attorney was reported in the Globe as Andrew Leonard. An attorney of the same name — Andrew Leonard — was the longtime general counsel for Hartmann Publishing, the original owner of the RFT.

Stoneking, the informant who testified against Bartolotta and dozens of other St. Louis mobsters in the 1980s, died of an apparent sucide in Maricopa County,  Arizona a year ago (2003). The Chicago mob had allegedly put a $100,000 contract out on Stoneking’s life after he became an informant.