On the eve of his sentencing for defrauding East St. Louis Township, the prosecution and defense in the Oliver Hamilton federal wire fraud case have agreed to amend a plea agreement that would double his recommended sentence to two years in prison.
The unusual joint motion was filed Wednesday — a week after U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael J. Reagan filed a 28-page memorandum in which he said the previous agreed-upon sentence of a year and a day plus plus $40,000 in restitution and three years of supervised release but no fine, may not be sufficient to deter corruption in East St. Louis and surrounding communities.
In the memorandum, Reagan called Hamilton’s criminal behavior “staggering.”
Reagan’s document included references to about 48 federal corruption cases in and around East St. Louis since 1998. In most, defendants were given minimal sentences.
J. Steven Beckett, law professor at the University of Illinois, said agreed-sentencing dispositions, especially in fraud cases, help both sides resolve cases when the losses aren’t clear.
“The prosecutors and defense are trying to find something the judge will sign off on without a contested sentencing hearing,” Beckett said. “Most cases aren’t resolved this way.”
On Friday, Hamilton emailed a statement to supporters stating that Reagan was planning on giving him a maximum sentence for “... going against the Belleville political party.” This was a reference to Hamilton supporting the break-away political party — the St. Clair County Freedom Coalition.
The email pointed out that a former Moro Township supervisor who embezzled nearly $700,000, was sentenced by Reagan in 2014 to six months in a halfway house and five years probation with 30 months of house arrest. The supervisor, Donald R. Flack, 80, must repay the loss at $1,000 a month, a virtual impossibility in that it would take 58 years.
The prosecutors and defense are trying to find something the judge will sign off on without a contested sentencing hearing. Most cases aren’t resolved this way.
J. Steven Beckett, law professor, University of Illinois
Last year, the News-Democrat published a series of investigative articles that outlined Hamilton’s use over four years of a no-limit American Express card on which he charged $230,000 for such items as car washes and detailing, gifts for friends and political cronies, trips with his wife including to Las Vegas, and tens of thousands of dollars in building supplies that were not accounted for. Hamilton, 63, owns a construction company. He also bought $40,000 in gasoline while showing up at various gas stations in his Chevy Silverado pickup and sometimes bought $200 worth of gas in a single day.
“Both parties have carefully reviewed the court’s sentencing memorandum and the court’s reasoning set forth therein. On reflection of the court’s reasoning, the parties have jointly agreed to amend the terms of the plea agreement ... to recommend to the court ... an above-the-guideline sentence of 24 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release, with restitution, but no fine,” the joint memorandum stated. It was proposed by U.S. Attorney Donald Boyce, Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman R. Smith, defense attorney Clyde Kuehn and Hamilton.
The 12-page document also noted, “Defendant and the United States agree that the defendant has voluntarily demonstrated a recognition and affirmative acceptance of personal responsibility for this criminal conduct. ...”
The township’s loss has been fixed at $40,000 to not more than $90,000 and involved “abuse of a position of trust.” The recommended restitution is $40,001 and the potential fine range is $5,000 to $55,000. The maximum prison sentence is 20 years but Hamilton has been shown to have a low score regarding a sentence under the federal court’s sentencing guidelines. He had no previous criminal record.
In recent years other federal judges have balked at plea agreements with sentencing recommendations in high-profile cases. In 2008, U.S. District Court Judge J. Phil Gilbert balked at a recommended six-year sentence for Madison County Attorney and political powerhouse L.Thomas Lakin on drug charges, but Gilbert eventually accepted the agreement.
In 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade rejected a negotiated 18-month prison sentence for former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook on heroin possession charges. McDade eventually sentenced Cook to two years in federal prison that he sieved at the minimum security facility at Pensacola Naval Air State, Pensacola, Florida.