Eric Hinson

Former St. Clair Fire Protection District Chief and Treasurer Eric Hinson pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one felony count of fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion.

Hinson, 43, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge E. Richard Webber on Wednesday and entered his plea. His sentencing was set for May 2.

Webber's Wednesday court docket showed Hinson's change of plea scheduled for 11 a.m. He originally had pleaded not guilty, which is normal procedure.

“In rural Missouri volunteer fire personnel are the backbone of public safety when it comes to our homes and property,” U.S. Attorney Richard C. Callahan said. “Aside from our thanks, they deserve much more than this from a public official.”

At his sentencing, Hinson could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the fraud charge. Each count of tax evasion carries a maximum penalty of five years and a fine of up to $100,000. In determining the actual sentences, a judge is required to consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide recommended sentencing ranges.

On Jan. 9, Hinson was indicted on fraud and multiple tax evasion charges involving his alleged misuse of about $593,236 of district funds between January 2006 and September 2011. Last September, it was revealed that only Hinson was involved in the fire district investigation that was spearheaded by the U.S. District Attorney's Office and the Internal Revenue Service. 

For more, see the Weekend Missourian.