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Vacca Gets Three Years For Parks Fraud

The agreement between the St. Louis County Family Court and the Justice Department, almost a year and a half in the making, is aimed at correcting violations in young people's due process and harsher treatment directed at black children.
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The former deputy parks commissioner for St. Louis city will spend three years in federal prison for his role in a scheme that defrauded the city of more than $470,000.

Joseph Vacca did not speak at today's sentencing hearing except to answer questions from Judge Carol Jackson, who rejected a request from Vacca's attorney for a lighter sentence.

"You had a position that carried some status, but that wasn't enough," Jackson told Vacca. "You've made it much more difficult for people to trust those put in a position to help run our government, and that is the kind of damage that is very hard to overcome."

Vacca and his colleague Dan Stritzel, the former chief park ranger, admitted in September to submitting thousands of dollars in false invoices to the city, and asking two legitimate companies to inflate their invoices.  One of those firms no longer does business with the city.

The duo was charged with three counts of mail fraud for using the United States Postal Service to mail the checks with the ill-gotten gains. They used the money to pay credit card bills and vehicle leases. No one else was charged in the case  - the U.S. attorney's office said an intensive investigation showed that no one at the two legitimate companies knew about the scam. When he was asked whether anyone inside the companies knew, Vacca said he couldn't speculate.

In addition to the three-year prison term, Vacca will have to spend three years on supervised release, during which he must provide the court with access to his financial information. He will also not be allowed to make any charges to his credit cards or open new lines of credit until he and Stritzel repay the $472,000 they stole. Stritzel will be sentenced in January.

Eddie Roth, Mayor Francis Slay's director of operations, issued the following statement on Vacca's sentencing:

"He deserved prison for breaking the public trust. He betrayed the City, his neighbors and his fellow employees. He is going to prison, and that's where he belongs."

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.