Former St. Clair Fire Protection District Chief Eric Hinson was indicted on fraud and multiple tax evasion charges on Wednesday, Jan. 9, involving his alleged misuse of about $593,236 of St. Clair Fire Protection District funds between January 2006 and September 2011.
The United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Missouri released information on the indictment Wednesday afternoon.
Hinson, 43, who lives just outside the St. Clair city limits, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday on one felony count of mail fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion.
If convicted, mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000; each count of tax evasion carries a maximum penalty of 5 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.
The local fire protection district primarily is funded by public funds, through real estate tax, personal property tax and sales tax.
Hinson began with the district as a volunteer firefighter during 1985, was elected to the board of directors for the district in 1997, and as treasurer of the district in 1999. In January 2011, he became the fire chief for the district while continuing to perform his duties as treasurer until his resignation from the district on Sept. 28, 2011.
As treasurer, Hinson was responsible for preparing the annual budgets, facilitating the annual financial statement audit, gaining approval from the district's board of directors for expenditures, reconciling bank statements and performing other accounting-related activities in the QuickBooks general ledger system other than for payroll. He also had the ability to access the QuickBooks system remotely from outside the District offices.
According to the indictment, Hinson used the district credit cards to pay for family vacations to Hawaii and Florida, to pay for personal items such as sporting goods and other items, limousine rentals, tickets to Six Flags, Big Surf Water Park and other entertainment expenses, restaurant meals, gasoline and hotel rooms, as well as to obtain significant cash advances.
Without the knowledge and authority of the district, Hinson directed that these personal credit card charges be paid with district funds. Further, on several occasions, according to the indictment, Hinson wrote district checks to pay for his own personal expenses, including checks to Ford Credit for a pickup truck, to Macy's for furniture, to John Deere Credit for tractor parts, and checks to Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank for other personal expenses.
The indictment states that in order to conceal his scheme, Hinson accessed the district's QuickBooks to alter reported general ledger activity by backdating certain of his fraudulent transactions and by changing the payee in order to manipulate the district's accounting records so as to hide the existence of his fraudulent transactions. Through his fraudulent conduct, Hinson obtained about $593,236 from the St. Clair Fire Protection District.
Additionally, the indictment alleges that Hinson filed false tax returns for five years, 2006 through 2010, under reporting his taxes during those years in a combined amount of about $400,000.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Hal Goldsmith is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
As is always the case, charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.
For more information and complete coverage, see the Weekend Missourian.