Oliver W. Hamilton finally had his day of reckoning.
Despite his big smile after making his plea deal, despite his text blaming the newspaper and Belleville politics for his plight, despite three changes to his sentencing recommendation: The former East St. Louis Township supervisor will spend five years in the federal pen and then three years being watched after he gets out.
He can no longer receive the Social Security disability payments of impoverished people he supposedly houses in a shack. He cannot be linked to any public contracts to continue making ridiculous amounts for installing drywall or mowing grass on public property.
U.S. District Chief Judge Michael Reagan saw through all the bull and told everyone in the region that predatory corruption, that feeding on the most vulnerable, will not be tolerated. “I can think of nothing worse than taking from the indigent,” Reagan told Hamilton.
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But it nearly went into that well-worn groove through the U.S. District Courthouse in East St. Louis. Had the U.S. Attorney’s office had its way, Hamilton would have received the same light touch that the previous 48 public corruption cases got in the past 20 years.
First, prosecutors failed to nail Hamilton for the full $230,000 he spent on a taxpayer-funded American Express card. They only came up with $40,000. No rabid former IRS accountants available to look at that obvious paper trail that two reporters had no trouble following?
Then, Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Smith made three different recommendations for a year, then two, then 30 months when he saw the judge wasn’t buying his nonsense.
After the judge doubled the sentence, Smith sounded more like a defense attorney than the public’s champion wielding the sword of justice. In fact, he echoed the defense’s psych eval of Hamilton: “He’s grown up in this culture of corruption and has come to believe that this is the way it is.”
Really? Hamilton doesn’t know right from wrong, stealing from giving? And a federal prosecutor cares about the roots of his pathology why?
If Smith and the U.S. District Attorney’s office want to go into social work, so be it. But they shouldn’t delude themselves that this federal courthouse in the heart of a corrupt environment that breeds more corruption and thwarts real social change is the right place for their soft hearts.
Reagan got it right, but prosecutors should have been howling for more instead of mewing for less.