Ex-Missouri Fire Chief Pleads Guilty to Fraud Charges
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) — Eric Hinson pled guilty to mail fraud and multiple tax evasion charges involving his misuse of approximately $593,236 of St. Clair Fire Protection District funds between January 2006 and September 2011. As a result of the federal investigation, Hinson resigned his positions as Chief at both the St. Clair Fire Protection District and the Ladue Fire Department.
The St. Clair Fire Protection District (District) provides fire protection service for Franklin County, Missouri, and has four fire houses, 18 full-time fire fighters and between 25-50 volunteer fire fighters. The District is primarily funded by public funds, through real estate tax, personal property tax and sales tax. Eric 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. During 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 September 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 court documents, 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, 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. 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 approximately $593,236 from the St. Clair Fire Protection District.
Additionally, Hinson filed false tax returns for the years 2006 through 2010, leaving total additional taxes due of $132,383.
“The IRS enforces the nation’s tax laws,” said C. Steve Howard, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation. “But we also take great interest in public officials who betray the public’s trust by diverting public money for their personal gain.”
Hinson, 43, St. Clair, MO, pled guilty to one felony count of mail fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion, before United States District Judge E. Richard Webber. Sentencing has been set for May 2, 2013.
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.
This case was investigated by the St. Clair Police Department, 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.