Former St. Clair Fire Protection District Chief and Treasurer Eric Hinson turned himself in as scheduled on Tuesday to begin serving his 35-month federal prison sentence.
Records from the U.S. penitentiary in Marion, Ill., showed that Hinson was in its inmate system as of Wednesday morning.
In June, after a couple of delays, the 43-year-old was sentenced to the term after he pleaded 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. The prison also has an adjacent satellite prison camp that houses minimum security male offenders.
The Marion penitentiary is located about nine miles south of Marion and about 120 miles from St. Louis.
It is unclear at this time whether Hinson will serve his full sentence at Marion or be transferred elsewhere in the future.
Hinson also was ordered to pay $615,298 in restitution. Of that amount, $515,298 will go to the fire district while the other $100,000 will be returned to the bonding company.
As of earlier this week, the St. Clair fire department had not received its money, Treasurer Dave Berkel told The Missourian. However, Hinson has 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 alleged misuse of about $593,236 of district funds between January 2006 and September 2011.
During his sentencing hearing, Hinson read a prepared statement in which he admitted guilt and apologized to the district and community. St. Clair fire officials and The Missourian have tried to obtain copies of that statement, but have not received it.
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.
According to published reports, Goldsmith said in court filings that an “arrogant” Hinson treated the district’s coffers “as his own personal piggy bank.”
Hinson began with the district as a volunteer firefighter in 1985, was elected to the board of directors in 1997 and as treasurer of the district in 1999. In January 2011, he became the district fire chief. He resigned on Sept. 28, 2011, the same day the investigation was launched.
As treasurer, Hinson was responsible for preparing the annual budgets, facilitating the annual financial statement audit, gaining approval from the board 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 court documents, Hinson used district credit cards to pay for family vacations to Hawaii and Florida; to pay for personal merchandise 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, Hinson wrote district checks to pay for his own personal expenses, including to Ford credit for a pickup truck, to Macy’s for furniture, to John Deere credit for tractor parts and to Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank for other personal expenses.
In order to conceal his scheme, documents stated that 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 accounting records so as to hide the existence of his fraudulent transactions.
The St. Clair Fire Protection District primarily is funded by public funds.