St. Clair Fire District Prepares to Move Ahead - The Missourian: Local News

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St. Clair Fire District Prepares to Move Ahead

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Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013 7:30 am

Now that the St. Clair Fire Protection District has received the money former chief and treasurer Eric Hinson was found guilty of misappropriating, the board of directors plans to put it to good use.

The three-member board put together a letter to taxpayers of the district. President Robin Jobe read it aloud during the board’s meeting Tuesday night. He said that hopefully the letter will put answers to any questions the patrons of the district may have.

“We put it out to answer any questions or concerns,” Jobe told The Missourian. “Hopefully, this puts the issue to rest. We wanted to thank everyone and let everyone know we are now moving on.

“We thought the letter helps bring closure.”

The letter is dated Aug. 13 and is addressed to taxpayers.

“The St. Clair Fire Protection District has gone through a nightmare of an investigation into the financials of the district and misappropriation of funds by Eric R. Hinson,” the board’s letter reads. “We are now ready to put a close to this difficult time for the district.

The letter specifically discusses the district’s financials.

“Because we didn’t have this money for several years doesn’t mean that we didn’t need it,” the letter reads. “This money will be used for much-needed maintenance and repairs that had to be put off due to the lack of funds.

“The board has worked hard trying to keep everything running with the money we had, and we will put these monies to good use for the betterment of the fire district.”

The letter was signed by Jobe, Secretary Kirby Banderman and Treasurer Dave Berkel.

At the end of July, Jobe confirmed to The Missourian that the fire district received its full restitution check from the U.S. District Court. The money was placed in the district’s bank account.

In June, the 43-year-old Hinson was sentenced to 35 months in prison after he pleaded guilty earlier this year to one felony count of fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion. U.S. District Court Judge E. Richard Webber sentenced Hinson. Webber is the federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Hinson is scheduled to at least spend the first part of his sentence at the medium-security facility in Marion, Ill. The prison is located about 120 miles from St. Louis.

Besides being given the prison term, Hinson was ordered to pay $615,298 in restitution. Of that amount, $515,298 was paid to the fire district while the other $100,000 was returned to the bonding company.

It was the $515,298 that the St. Clair fire district received from the court late last month. On the day Hinson was sentenced, he already had paid his full restitution to the court.

Hinson’s guilty plea in February came after his Jan. 9 indictment on fraud and multiple tax evasion charges involving his misuse of about $593,236 of district funds between January 2006 and September 2011. He turned himself in on July 23.

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 Criminal Investigation unit.

Additionally, Hinson filed false tax returns for the years 2006 through 2010, leaving total additional taxes due of $132,383, a press release stated.

The case was investigated by the St. Clair Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, with the assistance of the St. Clair Fire Protection District. Assistant Attorney Hal Goldsmith handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The letter states that at no time during the investigation was the “life safety of any resident or properties compromised in any way.”

“Our personnel have maintained professionalism and continued to keep the public safety in mind at all times,” the letter states. “There has not been a shortage of manpower or equipment.”

The board also said that safeguards and procedures have been put in place to prevent incidents from happening in the future. Board members now have to sign off on all expenditures and review all bank statements. In addition, yearly audits have resumed with an auditor visiting the district with all paperwork made available.

Also, the letter reads, during every board meeting the actual account balances are presented and are recorded in the meeting minutes.

“Each month, the bank statements have to be read and approved by all board members, and they are also out for review by the public at the board meeting,” the letter states. “Our banking procedures have changed and require two or three people to move money, deposit money and sign checks.”

The letter concludes with the board thanking the employees of the district and commending them for their actions during “this critical time.” It also thanks neighboring fire districts for their support and mutual aid as well as the financial institution that has assisted through the investigation process.

“Lastly, we would like to thank our citizens for their support, concerns and prayers during this time,” it states.

The St. Clair Fire Protection District primarily is funded by public funds.

Priority List

In its Aug. 13 letter written to taxpayers, the St. Clair Fire Protection District board of directors released “a few of the issues we are going to take care of” now that it has received full restitution from former chief and treasurer Eric Hinson.

Those items are:

•Repair or replace engine room bay doors.

•Replace rusted man doors for the engine houses.

•Engine bay heating issues.

•Upgrading equipment that has to be continually repaired because of age.

•Paying down some of its leases that were set up for station repairs and other purchases.

•Establish an emergency fund to cover any emergency purchase that isn’t in the budget.

•Personnel concerns.

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