St. Clair Fire Protection District

After an ugly, two-year ordeal than ended with its former chief being sentenced as a criminal, the St. Clair Fire Protection District now is ready to seek a new leader.

The district is advertising for a chief. Applications are being accepted until Oct. 4.

“It’s certainly been one of the things on our ‘to do’ list,” board of directors President Robin Jobe told The Missourian on Thursday. “There were just too many irons in the fire. We wanted to wait until the right time and get some things behind us.

“It’s time to have a permanent chief.”

Mike Kelley, who was the district’s assistant chief, was named interim chief after Eric Hinson resigned from the position in September 2011, the same time an investigation was started into his alleged misuse of fire department funds.

Hinson later was indicted and sentenced to 35 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to one felony count of fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion.

His 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.

Hinson was sentenced in June and started serving his sentence in July.

Hinson also was ordered to pay $615,298 in restitution. Of that amount, $515,298 went to the fire district while the other $100,000 was returned to the bonding company.

“Mike has done an outstanding job,” Jobe said. “He has done very well filling in for us.”

Information has been posted on the SCFPD’s website about the chief position. It lists the working conditions and physical demands, overall responsibilities, essential duties and required qualifications, licenses and certifications.

An advertisement also is appearing in The Missourian.

The salary is advertised at up to $65,000 annually.

Jobe said a step-by-step process applicants will go through will help determine the finalists. A series of tests and requirements that each applicant will have to pass will lead to a final interview stage with the board of directors.

The tests will be conducted by outside agencies. The board will not directly be involved until the final interviews.

“We think this is the best way to handle it,” Jobe said.

Jobe said he is comfortable that the new chief will be on board by the end of the year. If all goes well, he said the person could be hired and working locally by Thanksgiving.

“We’re anxious to get this done,” he said. “We’ll wait and see who we get.”

No Permanent Chief

St. Clair has been without a permanent fire chief since September 2011 when suspicions surrounding Hinson first surfaced. An investigation was started on the same day the former chief resigned.

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.”

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.

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 of that year.

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