Two metro-east politicians convicted of felonies, who have known each other since childhood, met at a Caseyville fast-foot restaurant in late April while FBI agents secretly videotaped their lunch.
One politician was on parole that was to end just 19 days later.
That meeting has led to an ongoing federal court challenge that will test whether a law long used in the United States to regulate parolees — the prohibition against associating with other felons — is enforceable.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael Reagan will decide by Sept. 19 whether the U.S. attorney’s parole violation case against Kelvin Ellis, 67, can go forward. At issue is whether Ellis violated the three years of supervised release that was part of a 10-year sentence for witness tampering and tax evasion he received in 2005.
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The other felon at the meeting at the Hardee’s was former East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton, 63, who was convicted of wire fraud in the theft of $40,000 in public money intended to help the poor. He is serving a five-year sentence handed to him by Reagan.
Last year, the News-Democrat published a series of investigative articles that reported Hamilton actually charged $230,000 on a township credit card for such items as travel to Mississippi where he owns property, thousands of dollars for gasoline for his personal truck, building supplies, tools, tool rentals and tires for a tractor owned by his construction firm.
In 2015 the federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit handed down a decision in a case that stated the law on prohibiting felons from associating with other felons while on parole was too vague. This ruling, U.S. v. Kappes, was cited by Ellis’ lawyer Joslyn Anthony and was based on a direct appeal of the sentence, not from being caught while on parole as happened with Ellis.
“Supervised release was not intended to be imposed for punishment or incapacitation,” but rather as a way to ensure that the parolee successfully returns to society as a useful citizen, the appeals court decision stated.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Smith, in a motion before Reagan, argued that Ellis wasn’t being prosecuted just for meeting with Hamilton but for actually working for Hamilton when Hamilton was still supervisor and had pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was awaiting sentencing. Ellis was a consultant who wrote grant applications for the township. Records show that a provision of Ellis’ parole was that he not be employed with any public entity.
“The prosecution and sentencing of Oliver Hamilton was well-publicized,” Smith wrote. “Kelvin Ellis was certainly aware that Oliver Hamilton is a convicted felon.”
Ellis, who once held a number of jobs at City Hall in East St. Louis over the years was convicted in 2005 of tampering with a witness involving a plot to have a woman shot to death at Horseshoe Lake. The plot was actually a set up by federal, local and state police. Ellis was also convicted of tax evasion. And in 2006, he was convicted in federal court of conspiracy to commit election fraud.
The prosecution in the current parole violation case against Ellis additionally argued that Ellis knew that his sentence prevented him from associating with felons and that unlike the case involving the appeal in Chicago, he did not challenge it during the time limit for appeals.
To assure Reagan that Ellis knew the requirements of the nonassociation law, Smith offered copies of Ellis’ monthly reports with a parole officer that stated in his handwriting that he had casual contact with “several individuals” at the Clyde Jordan Senior Citizens Center who were felons. He was not charged in connection with the contacts he reported.
Ellis could receive up to three years in prison, or consecutive one-year sentences for the original three felonies he was sentenced for in 2005.