Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Drug Dealer Who Got Letters of Support from St. Louis County Leaders Admits Money Laundering

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Drug Dealer Who Got Letters of Support from St. Louis County Leaders Admits Money Laundering

Article excerpt

CLAYTON * A politically connected drug dealer whose case has led to criticism of officials for their support pleaded guilty Monday to a state money-laundering charge in exchange for five years of probation.

The deal, in which Michael Saracino II will have that conviction erased from public view if he successfully completes the terms, was arranged before two controversial letters were written on his behalf by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and police Chief Jon Belmar to a federal judge in separate drug conspiracy case.

Those letters were written at the request of Saracino's family of prominent St. Louis area restaurateurs. Saracino's uncle, John Saracino, is a former county police board member who resigned as a top Stenger aide after the Post-Dispatch reported last week on the correspondence.

The deal in the St. Louis County Circuit Court money-laundering case was struck in 2013 and is contingent upon the younger Saracino's cooperation with investigators, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Susan Petersen said in court Monday.

His attorney, Scott Rosenblum, confirmed in a phone interview after the hearing that the deal had "nothing to do with the letters."

Rosenblum said that five years of probation and a suspended imposition of sentence were "not unusual" and "sort of part and parcel in the federal case."

Saracino was caught by Missouri state troopers in the River City casino in October 2012 after he and another man conducted a series of monetary transactions intended to avoid federal reporting requirements on cash transactions above $10,000, Petersen said in court. He was charged in 2013.

Asked in court Monday if the prosecutor's recitation of his crime was "substantially correct," Saracino said, "Yes."

The money-laundering case also was mentioned at his sentencing in the federal drug conspiracy case last month, when U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry told him that the state charge should have been a "wake-up call."

"You didn't turn around when you had the chance then," she said.

Instead, she said, he continued with the conspiracy.

Saracino was one of two dozen defendants in the multi-million- dollar drug conspiracy who were indicted in two cases in August 2014. …

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